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5 Moments In History From UoPeople That Changed Education Forever


As we honor 10 years of revolutionizing global education, we take a look at the 5 moments in history from UoPeople that have changed education forever.

From the moment UoPeople was born, education has never been the same. Created with the vision to provide access to education for anyone, anywhere in the world, entrepreneur Shai Reshef started a global online institution that has changed the lives of over 18,500 students since its inception in 2009.

As we celebrate the first decade of existence, we’d like to share the most exciting steps that brought us to where we are today. While there are so many milestones to take note of through UoPeople’s history, these are the top 5 that have so dramatically impacted our success and the student experience throughout the years.

Additionally, these moments continue to pave the way to what’s next: a future of expansion, increased partnerships, and the evergreen mission to revolutionize education for all.

1. The Humble Beginnings – 2009

Back in 2009, President Reshef announced his plan to revolutionize higher education. By placing utmost value on opportunity, community, integrity and quality, University of the People was introduced as the first non-profit, tuition-free American online university.

In just looking at the numbers, it’s clear why an institution like this must exist to meet the demand of students. UNESCO estimates that by 2025, there will be 100 million young and eager students seeking higher education, but the seats just won’t exist in physical institutions. In an effort to support education as a universal right, we refuse to accept that education should be constrained by physical, financial, political or personal burdens.

In May, the plan for UoPeople was shared with the United Nations, and the big day came in September 2009 when the first school year began with 180 students enrolled. Thanks to the pioneering structure that offers many benefits over traditional institutions, the university quickly gained traction and, in turn, enrollment has grown with each successive year.

As an online university, UoPeople offers several advantages over traditional schools, including:

  • Accessibility: Everything is 100% online, which means that no matter where you may be in the world, as long as you have access to an internet connection, you have access to learn.
  • Flexibility: You have the option to enroll part-time or full-time and study on your own time, so you can continue to fulfill whatever current obligations you may have, such as raising a family or working for a living.
  • Quality: The high quality education parallels that of traditional institutions with university partnerships and devoted program advisory boards.

2. University Partnerships Begin – 2011

UoPeople doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather, it’s a community of educational leaders across the globe who have come together with the same goal in mind: to empower students from all backgrounds to achieve their higher education goals. For example, in 2011, NYU signed on as a university partner, offering students from UoPeople to transfer credits and receive full scholarships to attend NYU Abu Dhabi.

This first partnership laid the groundwork for future universities to sign on board, like the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley agreed to accept transfer credits from those with an Associate degree from UoPeople to be applied to their Bachelor’s degree requirements.

Furthemore, UoPeople has specific partnerships in the Education and Health Sciences fields. For example, the Master’s of Education was made in partnership with the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB is a global leader in the provision of high-quality, accessible programs for K-12 students. Offered by almost 5,000 schools in more than 150 countries, IB programs encourage both personal growth and academic achievement. The IB requirement to attend a Category 1 Workshop is waived for qualified graduates of the M.Ed. program.

Additionally, for those pursuing a degree in Health Sciences, the University of Edinburgh collaborates with UoPeople to offer students who have been uprooted by war, natural disasters and famine to apply to complete their degree while residing in the UK or Scotland. After completing their degree with UoPeople, the University of Edinburgh is open to accepting refugees for graduate studies in their online program.

Aside from the big name university partners, there are academic leaders from around the world who contribute their expertise to help design the various curriculums, ensuring that the degree programs set students up to be prepared for jobs within their respective fields.

It’s often said that it takes a village to a raise a child, and in the same sense, it takes a village to offer robust and globally accessible education. We couldn’t be so successful without our over 7,000 volunteers who give their time and energy. Our volunteers mentor and host discussion groups, create, organize, and review course material, and a whole lot more.

3. Accreditation Means Everything – 2014

Deemed as the most important academic milestone thus far, earning accreditation in 2014 propelled UoPeople forward and added a level of credibility that is necessary for students earning degrees. In loose terms, accreditation is when a third party audits a university and its offerings to ensure it is adequately providing all that it promises. UoPeople earned this accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which marked a breakthrough.

Back in 2012, we paved the path to earn this distinction with the assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Furthermore, in 2013, President Reshef was invited to the White House to share how this educational model could be scalable and revolutionize education to change the world.

But accreditation isn’t the only big news when it comes to showcasing the true power of the quality of education offered by UoPeople. For example, the Master’s of Education (M.ed) program was designed with the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB is a global leader in the provision of high-quality, accessible programs for K-12 students. IB programs are offered by nearly 5,000 schools, and upon completion of the M.ed at UoPeople, graduates are exempt from the Category 1 Workshop required by those who look to complete the IB program.

4. Syrian Refugee Initiative + Additional Global Initiatives – 2015

UoPeople supports students from all over the globe, regardless of their political status of their country’s policies. Before the Syrian Refugee Initiative was introduced in 2015, the Clinton Global Initiative provided 250 Haitian students the chance to learn for free in response to tragic consequences that the earthquake caused in 2010.

Then, in 2015, the Syrian Refugee Initiative granted access for 500 refugees to earn their degrees. Now, there are about 600 Syrian refugees enrolled at UoPeople, 300 of whom are in Syria and 300 others who are spread across 40 different countries. In 2017, the Ford Foundation granted support for the initiative, and in 2017, Pope Francis also shared his support.

What this represents is so much bigger than the actual numbers, but rather it is about the concept. It showcases how UoPeople’s innovative design is truly transformative because it grants access to those who may have otherwise been denied education because of politics and situations outside of their control. This gives people the power to pursue their dreams and expand their opportunities through knowledge. After all, knowledge is power.

5. Major Names Help Spread the Word – Ongoing

Ideas won’t spread unless people share the news. We’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited by huge platforms to spread the mission of accessible education across the world. Additionally, this important message has been amplified with the help of digital media and its well-known faces.

For example, here’s a look at some of the biggest videos and talks that have helped bring UoPeople to where we are today:

Ted Talk: With over 6 million views, in 2014, President Reshef was invited to give a Ted Talk where he shared the mission to grant education to anyone seeking it. He explains how UoPeople is the ultimate solution to achieve world peace and strategically solve the major problems of today and the future, by stating that education will transform “from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all.”

Gold Medalist Simone Biles: As global ambassador, Simone Biles, the most decorated female gymnast and multiple gold medalist, is a prime example of how one’s life passion doesn’t have to be stopped when pursuing their education. She interviews President Reshef in this video that has thousands of views.

Nas Daily: Nas Daily, a viral vlogger who has more than 5 million followers on Facebook, met with President Reshef to highlight what UoPeople is all about. President Reshef traveled to Armenia, where he had a quick chat with Nuseir Yassin, and the video went viral quickly, with almost half a million views.

Where We Stand Today and A Look Ahead

Revolutionizing a global system of education can’t happen overnight, but it will continue to happen with the dedication of our university’s leaders, volunteers, corporate partners, academic partners, and most importantly, our students.

As of now, we offer four degree programs: Business Administration, Computer Science, Health Science, and Education, with the plans to add more. We’ve witnessed students take over 23,000 courses. An impressive 97% of students would recommend UoPeople to their friends.

We have over 18,500 students hailing from more than 200 countries and territories and 22 team locations all over the world. Locations include our headquarters in Pasadena, California, and ancillary offices in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, and Japan, to name a few.

The future holds a lot for UoPeople, and we promise to continue to strive for more despite how far we’ve come over the past decade. Our goal is to grow bigger and faster to reach 1 million students as soon as we can. We’ll achieve this goal by adding more courses and enhancing all the great work that has already been accomplished.