It sounds like a scam. A tuition-free business school? If it’s not a scam, it certainly can’t be good. Right?
When you see the combination of experienced entrepreneurs, heads of some of the world’s top educational institutions, and the United Nations get together, it’s time to pay attention. Something big is changing. In this case, it’s secondary education.
University of the People was founded about a year ago and includes on it’s advisory committee prominent and trustworthy individuals such as Shai Reshef and Dr. Gabriel Hawawini (former dean of INSEAD and current U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh). It’s leadership team is made up of top Columbia University and NYU professors, which is nothing to sneeze at. They’ve even recently announced a partnership with Yale. And yet it’s free.
Over 300 students are currently enrolled in this free university. If you calculate it out, that equals… yup, still zero dollars in revenue based on tuition. Of course, there are fees. But every school has fees (doing anything has fees), but what you’ll notice missing from these graduates is the massive hole of debt we traditional-institution graduates walk around with.
Currently, because of it’s infancy, the offerings are somewhat limited. It’s not accredited, so getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree won’t be possible quite yet. But they’re working on that. However, students can pursue an associate’s-degree or bachelor’s-degree “track” in business or a bachelor’s track in computer science. It doesn’t mean you’ll get the piece of paper saying you have a degree yet, but it is definitely something to put on the resume and be proud of. It may lead to a degree in the future as well with a small amount of extra effort when the time comes. In the meantime, you can learn what you need to without paying the high price tag. I think of it like a small investment – one that takes minimal money but has a big return; you get applicable knowledge in the business world from some of the smartest professors available. That’s worth much more than zero dollars.
Just because it’s free doesn’t mean everyone gets in, though. Over 3,000 people applied for the school’s first two semesters. Once you’ve been accepted, you get placed into a peer-to-peer learning environment with 15-20 other students and the class is facilitated by an instructor. This method creates a common goal and facilitates community (class) engagement because of it. It’s designed to become a village with a purpose – effectively creating extremely strong ties between the students in a short period of time.
A few questions about the business model remain for a tuition-free institution. One of those questions is whether or not the fact that it’s free equates to a poor education in the minds of the students or the employers who hire them post-graduation. It could be a case of perceived value which may hurt this kind of model. In the end though, the jobs and salaries received by graduates will tell the tale. In the meantime, there is no reason why you shouldn’t take up the opportunity to learn for free what could have cost you tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars just last year.