To make a tuition-free university a reality, the power of volunteers is displayed through inspiring stories from UoPeople instructors.
In 2009, University of the People opened its doors with the primary goal to offer affordable, quality and accessible higher education for all people around the world. As a non-profit, accredited academic institution, UoPeople’s tuition-free education has been able to help transform the lives of over 18,500 students and counting. In order to be able to support thousands of students from over 200 countries and territories in earning their degrees, UoPeople continues to rely on the helpful hands of thousands of volunteers.
At UoPeople, the volunteers who dedicate their time as course instructors also work at some of the most highly ranked institutions around the world. They have come together to help change the lives of so many students, and at the same time, their lives have been changed, too.
Diversity of Students Offers Different Perspectives
With an entirely online educational platform, UoPeople makes it possible for students anywhere with an internet connection to learn. For this reason, the student body is extremely diverse and represents over 200 countries and territories, and also includes the enrollment of refugees from various countries. With the diverse student body and pedagogical model comes the diversity of perspectives and learning styles which helps to inform and broaden the minds of professors and students alike.
Not only do students learn from one another in this model, but instructors also learn from their students. For example, Emma Awuku-Sowah, who teaches Biology for Health Studies and an Introduction to Environmental Science and trains other faculty members, says, “The thing that inspires me most about teaching at UoPeople is the opportunity it affords me to actually also learn something from the rich variety of students and faculty that converge in this fantastic virtual space.”
In fact, one of her students was so inspired and moved by what he learned in class about the impact of climate change and the survival of bees that he cultivated sap in order to protect bees on his own land. The transformative nature of education that can allow for real world action is what UoPeople and its professors believe in by promoting the mission to use knowledge that’ll ultimately achieve world peace and solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.
Peer Empowerment Leads to Results
Thanks to its diverse enrollment, UoPeople effectively functions based on a pedagogical model, where students also lead discussions and perform peer-to-peer reviews. Both students and instructors alike make mention of how this has contributed to the diverse “constellation of perspectives.” The quality of education is stellar and has taken some graduates to great heights.
To exemplify, throughout her experience teaching across all degrees offered (Health Science, Computer Science, Education and Business Administration), Jeanette Lamb shares the joy she felt when one of her students was accepted to Harvard. Like UoPeople, she believes that price shouldn’t impact one’s ability to receive a quality education. She shares, “I am of the theory that education is like wine — the price tag is not a reliable tool for measuring the quality of what is inside the bottle.”
High Standards, High Hopes
UoPeople only offers online degrees, and the quality of education is not any less than that of a traditional university. In fact, enrollment in online courses is on an upwards trend. Dr. Robert K. Green, who joined as a volunteer at UoPeople after hearing President and Founder Shai Reshef’s TED Talk, shares, “A tuition-free education does not equate to an easy education. Students must work hard at UoPeople and uphold our high academic standards. The dedicated UoPeople faculty and administration strive to provide students with every opportunity to be successful degree-holding members of their communities.”
Contributing to his rigorous coursework and high expectations, Dr. Green was blown away by one of his students who sent a personal email following the civil violence in their home country. Despite the inability to post to course discussions because of actual violence occurring, the student still felt compelled to share his reasoning with Dr. Green via email because the level of care is so high for this kind of educational opportunity.
As students from all backgrounds attend courses with different challenges to overcome, the overarching theme continues to be that both the professors and students value the high quality of education, as well as the high expectations so that they can achieve their dreams. Dr. Green shares, “Regarding my contributions to students and faculty, the confidence that UoPeople administration has demonstrated towards me is humbling and has provided me with a renewed sense of what it means to be a PhD.”
Dr. Green doesn’t stand alone in his awe from the perseverance of his students. Mahmoud Sharif, who teaches Computer Science, tells how one of his greatest joys is to witness “students obtain a degree in the most difficult of situations. It gives me hope in humanity.” He explains, “I’ve taught students in refugee camps, I’ve taught homeless people, I’ve seen students studying under typhoons and cyclone evacuations, I’ve seen students continue studying despite riots, Internet cuts and military curfews.”
While not all students who attend UoPeople experience such intense levels of hardship, every student has their own reason to earn their degree. However, most students have faced their own kind of challenge when it comes to earning their education; whether it be familial pressures, financial stress, time constraints, or in the extreme cases, life or death situations, UoPeople will never shut the door on anyone who is unable to afford it due to their circumstances, because education is and should be a human right.
As one of the most common barriers to entry for a degree, students name financial struggle. UoPeople is tuition-free, which means that tuition alone does not have a cost. Instead, there is an application fee to be enrolled, as well as course assessment fees, but even the assessment fees may be covered with scholarships, nine of which the University offers. Additionally, students can choose to study around their own schedule as everything is online. There’s virtually no reason why a student should ever be turned away from earning their degree, and UoPeople is making strides in changing the educational landscape to ensure this as a reality. Without its growing number of 11,000 volunteers, this would not be made possible.
English teacher Tiffany E. Price puts it all together when she says, “UoPeople seeks to provide academic opportunities for all. Despite any student’s financial or cultural hurdles, UoPeople has become an avenue for academic success – refusing to close the doors on students who have struggled to receive academic opportunities in the past.”