Is University of the People Legit and Tuition Free?

The University of the People seems like an amazing option because it doesn’t charge tuition. However, it’s not entirely free, and there might be cheaper online colleges out there. It was started in 2009 by Shai Reshef, an Israeli businessman. His goal was to give everyone around the world the chance to earn a bachelor’s degree. Today, the university has over 100,000 students. In this article, we will be looking into an important question: is University of the People legit? 100%, it is a legit university to join. However, there are other aspects you should consider when making your decision.

Is University of the People Legit?

Yes, the University of the People is legit, I mean 100% legit. The main question should be whether this school is worth it for you or not. Now, this is the aspect we are going to focus on because, at the end of the day, it is really up to your decision. We are going to evaluate the University of the People in these 9 areas:

  1. Accreditation
  2. Cost (Is it Really Tuition Free?)
  3. Quality of Education
  4. Transfer Friendliness
  5. Student Experience
  6. Degree Options
  7. Non Profit
  8. Online Reviews
  9. Degree Flexibility

We’ll rate these categories, average the scores, and come up with a GPA. A great, hackable college should score at least 3.0 out of 4. So, you should, at the end of the day, be able to determine on your own whether the University of the People is worth it at all.

1. Accreditation

When you’re investing in a degree and dedicating time to it, you have to ensure that the university has proper accreditation from a respected agency. This agency should confirm that the program meets certain standards. The DEAC, or Distance Education Accrediting Commission, is a national accrediting body that has accredited the University of the People. When you look into this, you’ll find yourself comparing nationally accredited universities with regionally accredited ones. Personally, I believe that a school’s reputation and brand are more important than its accreditation type.

Typically, traditional universities hold regional accreditation. Different accrediting organizations use various criteria to evaluate a university’s quality. It’s hard to definitively say which type of accreditation is superior. However, a notable issue with national accreditation is that credits from these institutions are often not recognized by regionally accredited universities, which can make transferring credits difficult.

That notwithstanding, the major drawback is that the University of the People is not regionally accredited. As a U.S. school, the most recognized form of accreditation is regional. This lack of regional accreditation means the degree might not hold as much value in the job market or for admission into graduate schools, especially in the U.S.

If you’re in a country or profession where any bachelor’s degree is sufficient, this degree can work. But for those in the U.S. or looking to enter U.S. graduate programs, a regionally accredited degree is often preferred. Many positions and graduate programs may not accept a nationally accredited degree. National accreditation is easier to obtain than regional accreditation, which is more prestigious and widely recognized.

2. Cost (Is it Really Tuition Free?)

The main attraction of the University of the People is its cost, and yes, that’s a play on words. You don’t pay anything per credit or per semester. But, it’s not completely free. If you get a bachelor’s degree from the University of the People, you’ll probably pay for three things. Firstly, there’s a $60 application fee. Secondly, each course has a fee of $120 for grading your homework. Thirdly, a unique fee at U of the P: they charge $17 for each course credit they accept when you transfer.

So, if you transfer 60 credits, it’ll cost around $340. In total, attending the University of the People could cost you between $2,500 and $5,000. This price is incredibly low. I can only think of one other school that’s this affordable, besides some community colleges which are government-funded. Therefore, not only does the University of the People earn an A for its affordability, but because it’s changing the way we think about college tuition, it gets our first ever A+.

3. Quality of Education

It’s true that personal preferences play a big role in how we learn, and this is evident in the way the University of the People operates, especially considering its cheap programs. A notable aspect is that the instructors are volunteers. The university does have certain requirements for their educational background, and they also consider the instructors’ work experience to determine their suitability for various programs. These instructors are different from what you might expect at traditional universities, but that’s not necessarily a negative point. From my own experience, I’ve encountered professors at standard universities who weren’t very effective in their teaching, while I’ve also gained valuable knowledge from free online resources such as YouTube.

The structure of the courses at the University of the People is maintained, but they manage to keep costs down by using what they call open education resources instead of traditional textbooks. These are online materials like Wikipedia articles or resources compiled by other universities, accessible to anyone.

The advantage here is that these resources are carefully chosen and organized to form the foundation and content of the courses. It might seem like a cost-cutting measure, but it actually works. I’ve personally found that I’ve learned as much, or even more, from free online resources than from many years in formal education. However, a downside is that it’s not always clear which specific resources are used for the courses, so there’s a chance you might encounter material that hasn’t been thoroughly edited or peer-reviewed.

4. Student Experience

Next, let’s talk about the student experience at the University of the People and see if a nearly free university is actually legit. University of the People accepts everyone, with a 100% acceptance rate. You’re guaranteed admission. However, getting in doesn’t mean you’ll graduate. Their graduation rate is only 13.4%, which is lower than many for-profit schools. If you’re determined and focused on graduating, you could be part of that 13.4%. But, the reality is, most people don’t make it.

University of the People uses an asynchronous learning model. All course materials are uploaded online, and you work through them over eight weeks. Each week involves reading, watching lectures, and completing assignments. What’s unique here is that most of your grades come from your peers. For each written assignment, you’re graded by three classmates, and you grade three of theirs in return. However, this system can be frustrating. Some students have mentioned receiving unfair grades from classmates or feeling that their peers didn’t evaluate their work thoughtfully.

They then have to contact their professor to address these issues, which can be bothersome if it happens frequently. On the flip side, this peer grading system allows the classes to run with minimal direct professor involvement, contributing to the low cost. It also encourages more interaction with classmates and offers a chance to learn by grading others.

5. Transfer Friendliness

Let’s start with the positives. University of the People allows you to transfer up to 75% of your degree from other sources. This means you only need to take 30 credits directly from them, which is standard in the industry. From my research and what others have said, I think they’re quite open to accepting transfer credits. They accept credits from accredited institutions, which suggests they might accept credits from both regionally and nationally accredited schools. But a key question is how well they accept credits from CLEP, DSST, Sophia, StraighterLine.com, and Study.com, which are important for college hacking. Unfortunately, they don’t list these equivalencies.

Even Harvard lists some CLEP exam equivalencies, but the University of the People doesn’t, and they aren’t official partners with these programs. This makes transferring credits from these five sources uncertain. While they might actually be very transfer-friendly, their lack of public information and push towards taking their own courses, which last eight weeks each, affects their rating. So, for transfer friendliness, they get a B.

6. Degree Options

When evaluating degree options at a university, we focus on two aspects: variety and flexibility. This is an area where the University of the People doesn’t perform very well. First, in terms of variety, they offer only three bachelor’s degree programs. These programs do have a total of 11 specializations, but that’s still limited in terms of choices.

These degrees are popular and align well with some of the highest-paying and easiest-to-get jobs I’ve discussed in this article. However, they might only cater to about 80% of students, leaving 20% wondering about their preferred major. The University of the People also lacks what I refer to as a Chipotle major. This could be a problem for students transferring a large number of credits.

7. Non Profit

UoPeople is a non-profit, tuition-free, nationally accredited American online university. So, if you are looking for higher education as a qualified student who does not have the opportunity, this could be your opportunity, especially as someone who is consumed by work. Now, the University of the People makes money by charging a low application fee and an Assessment Fee per course completed. This is $140 for the undergraduate programs, $200 for certificates, and up to $400 for the graduate programs).

8. Online Reviews

Regarding online reviews, the University of the People scores highly, with a 9.5 out of 10 on platforms like GradReports, Niche.com, and EduOpinions. This rating is exceptionally high compared to other schools I’ve reviewed. Some complaints focus on the $60 application fee, which seems minor considering the overall savings on tuition. Generally, students praise the educational experience and value the peer interactions. However, some have raised concerns about customer service, finding it challenging to get assistance from the university.

One significant issue seems to be customer service. Before becoming a student, getting information from the university is difficult. In preparing this article, I emailed three different official addresses at University of the People and received no response after 48 hours. They don’t offer a direct phone line, only a voicemail service, and an attempt to contact them via their website chat went unanswered for over six hours. This lack of readily available assistance is likely another way they reduce costs.

9. Degree Flexibility

Next, let’s consider degree flexibility. Looking at their business degree, the university claims that all three degrees offer about 36 elective credits, which is more than I usually recommend. This is positive as it allows for a good level of credit transfer. However, the issue is with the major-specific credits, which are around 60 hours. This is quite high, as a more “hackable” degree would have closer to 45 credits in the major. This means there’s less room to manipulate the major portion, and the general education part, which is usually easy to handle, becomes quite limited. Choosing a specialization could further reduce the space for elective credits. Based on these considerations, I’d rate the University of the People’s degree options and flexibility as a C.

So, What’s My Take?

If I were to rate the student experience at the University of the People based solely on student reviews, it would earn a strong A. However, the low 13.4% graduation rate, the absence of regional accreditation, and my own challenges in communicating with the university staff would typically drop such a rating to an F. So, I’m going to average these factors and give it a C. It offers a great experience for those who appreciate it, but very few actually graduate, and the degree may be less valuable in the U.S.

Consequently, the University of the People’s overall score on the College Hack GPA is 2.9 out of 4.0, which is somewhat underwhelming. They are remarkably cheap, and students generally have positive things to say. If their website was more transparent, we’d likely know they accept many transfer credits, but they’re not open about their equivalency criteria. They tend to steer students towards their own 8-week courses, offer only three moderately flexible degrees, have a low graduation rate, and lack regional accreditation. This university could be a very affordable and excellent choice for people outside the U.S., and possibly for some within the U.S., but it wouldn’t be my top recommendation.

Conclusion—Is University of the People Legit?

The University of the People is 100% legit. We have taken 9 factors into consideration and examined them for you to make a decision that works best for your situation. After reading this, make sure to conduct your own research and plan accordingly. You want to make sure that what you get from the University of the People aligns with your career goals. If you do choose to attend the University of the People and need help with creating a degree plan, or if you need assistance with planning for any other school, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section. We’re here to help you graduate college quickly and affordably, so you can pursue a career you’re passionate about.

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