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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Kaltenbach

A Tuition-Free Online Accredited University

Updated: Mar 27, 2023


Last year, University of the People, a global online university based in Pasadena, CA, was named the top online tuition-free university in the USA.[1] Students do not pay any tuition; since the school is online, they don’t pay for room and board either. Depending on the program, students only pay around $120 for each final exam (if their course has a final exam and waivers are available for exams).[2]


An Israeli businessman, Shai Reshef, is the founder and president of the University of the People. In 2009, he invested $3 million of his own money into the school.[3] His current presidential advisory council includes educational leaders like:

  • Haifa Jamal Al-Lail- President, Effat University

  • Lisa Anderson- President Emerita, The American University in Cairo

  • Craig Calhoun- Former President, London School of Economics and Political Science

  • Nicholas Dirks- Former Chancellor, UC Berkeley

  • Michèle Gendreau-Massaloux- Rector Emerita, Academy of Paris

You can find more members of his council here.

4 years after its launch, University of the People was functioning with 736 students, 14 employees, over 300 volunteers, and a budget of around $1 million.[4] From 2021-2022, the university grew to 44,000 students. Today, 126,000 students from more than 200 countries are enrolled in the school.[5] These students must complete 2 classes to matriculate, and while many students don’t finish the 2 classes, several continue to take more classes and earn a degree.[6] Around 51,000 of their current students have advanced beyond the 2 classes needed to matriculate into their desired degree program.[7]


Top-notch scholars from institutions such as New York University volunteer their time and talent by teaching a course each semester or serving as a dean for the school.[8] As one can imagine, the student body is very ethnically diverse and racially diverse. Students might be from a third-world country or individuals with a lot of student debt wanting further education. Even Olympic champ Simone Biles chose to attend and graduate from the university. Actually, she chose the University of the People instead of UCLA, saying, "University of the People opened up an opportunity for me that didn’t otherwise exist, accommodating the flexibility I need to fit in my college studies around my career.”[9]

Simone Biles, Olympic champion and University of the People alumna

Since 2013, the school has been nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (an accrediting agency officially approved by the US Department of Education/CHEA).[10] The school is currently a candidate for regional accreditation (WSCUC, formerly known as WASC) and has advocates like the UN, Oxford University, Columbia University, the Ford Foundation, Hewlett, The Carnegie Corporation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. An increasing number of higher learning institutions like the University of California-Berkley, have decided to fully accept University of the People transfer students and graduates.[11]


Currently, students can earn the following undergraduate and graduate degrees:

Here are some other interesting facts about the school:

  • 10% of the student body are refugees, and of that 10%, 8,000 students are Syrian refugees.[12]

  • After the Taliban took over Afghanistan again in 2021, the university granted over 1,600 Afghan women full scholarships covering exam fees and books for whatever program they chose (all women secretly study for their degrees).[13]

  • Last year, the school chose to enroll over 25,000 refugees[14]

  • 30% of the university's US students are Black compared to 14% at the average US university[15]

  • 60% of the UOP students are the first of their generation to enroll in college

  • 50% of UOP students are parents

The University of the People is for everyone--those who want further education, those who are riddled with debt, those who want to graduate debt-free, and especially those who do not have access to educational opportunities. If you know someone who wants to attend college or obtain a graduate degree but cannot due to various obstacles, I highly recommend that you suggest the University of the People.


________________________________________ [1] “The Best Online Degrees of 2022,” Intelligent. https://www.intelligent.com/best-online-degrees/.; and “Uopeople Named Top Tuition-Free Online University in the U.S.,” Press Releases: University of the People (January 6, 2022). [2] Peter Coy, “How Can This University Charge Nothing for Tuition?” The New York Times (February 14, 2022). [3] Maura Lerner, “Free Tuition Draws Minnesota Students to University of the People,” The Star Tribune (September 16, 2017). [4] Laura Pappano, “The Value in a Free Degree,” The New York Times (November 1, 2013).

[5] Susan D'Agostino, “Will University of the People Endure for the People?” Inside Higher Ed (March 15, 2023). [6] Peter Coy, “How Can This University Charge Nothing for Tuition?” The New York Times (February 14, 2022). [7] “University of the People Becomes Harvard Business School Online Collaborating College,” PR Newswire (February 2, 2021); and Peter Coy, “How Can This University Charge Nothing for Tuition?” The New York Times (February 14, 2022). [8] “University of the People: Is it Truly Free?” Study International (January 1, 2022). [9] Aviva Legatt, “Why Simone Biles Chose an Online College Over UCLA,” Forbes (April 3, 2018). [10] Susan D'Agostino, “Will University of the People Endure for the People?” Inside Higher Ed (March 15, 2023). [11] Ellie Bothwell, “Berkeley to Accept University of the People Graduates,” Times Higher Education (April 5, 2016). [12] Peter Coy, “How Can This University Charge Nothing for Tuition?” The New York Times (February 14, 2022); and Hilary Burns, “This Online University Aims to Educate Those With ‘No Other Alternative,' Including Syrian Refugees and Afghan Women,” The Business Journals (September 20, 2021). [13] Peter Coy, “How Can This University Charge Nothing for Tuition?” The New York Times (February 14, 2022). [14] “Uopeople Pledges to Enroll 25,000 Refugees from Around the Globe,” Press Releases: University of the People (June 20, 2022). [15] This and the following 2 statistics come from: “University of the People Becomes Harvard Business School Online Collaborating College,” PR Newswire (February 2, 2021).

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