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Online University Offers Poor Students a Chance

Undocumented immigrant Emmanuel studies at the tuition-free University of the People

Undocumented immigrant Emmanuel studies at the tuition-free University of the People

Like many young people around the world, Emmanuel dreamed of getting a university education in the United States.

The 26-year-old only told VOA his first name because he is an undocumented immigrant. This means he does not have the official documents needed to enter, live in, or work in the U.S. legally.

Emmanuel came to the U.S. from Mexico five years ago. But, when he arrived, he discovered that his dream was much more difficult to achieve than he thought.

“First I had to learn English and realized that there were very few opportunities for me to really study into formal education in the United States.”

But then Emmanuel read about University of the People. University of the People is a university that has no tuition costs. The university’s classes and teaching materials are all free online. Also, all of the teachers are volunteers.

Federal laws in the U.S. do not prevent undocumented immigrants from going to college. But laws do ban undocumented immigrants from receiving government financial aid.

The Pew Research Center is an organization that studies social issues around the world. The organization recently reported there were 11.3 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in 2014. Of those, 49 percent were from Mexico.

Many undocumented immigrants like Emmanuel come to the U.S. with little money to pay for things like higher education. College Board is an organization that collects information and resources to make higher education more available.

The organization recently reported on the average cost of a four-year degree at both public and private U.S. universities.

The average cost at a public university is $9,410 for a resident of the state where the university is located. The average cost at a private university is $32,405.

College Board also reported that 69 percent of financial aid came from the U.S. government in 2014.

Emmanuel had no other choice, so he chose to study at University of the People. Quickly, he said, he believed that the university would give him the skills for a future in computer science.

Shai Reshef is the president of University of the People. He was born in Israel. Reshef made millions of dollars as the chief executive officer of the Kidum Group. The Kidum Group was a company that helped students prepare for tests.

Reshef decided to create a tuition-free university after visiting several poor countries. People in those countries had limited higher education opportunities.

“We built a model to show universities, to show governments that the issue of higher education can be solved. Higher education can be accessible, can be affordable, can be high-quality and shouldn’t leave anyone behind.”

Currently, the University of the People only offers degrees in computer science and business administration. Though tuition is free, the university does require students to pay a $50 application fee. Also, the university requires students to pay a $100 test fee when they complete a class.

The total cost for a four-year degree is $4,000. But the university does offer scholarships.

Students must be at least 18 years old. They must be highly skilled in English. Students must also have completed high school.

The university has students from 170 countries. Refugees are among the university’s student population. Reshef also said that almost 25 percent of the students are undocumented immigrants.

To help these students, the University of the People works with other schools such as New York University, Oxford University and Yale University.

University of the People also works with companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. Some of these partners provide students with financial help. Other partners offer students internships.

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission or DEAC is a U.S. organization that reviews the quality of online schools and schools without physical classrooms. The DEAC approved the University of the People’s quality of education in 2014.

Emmanuel said he misses seeing and working with other students in a classroom. But he does love working with students in many countries online.

“It helps me to realize that I’m not limited to just staying in one country.”

There are more than 2,500 students studying with the University of the People. The university expects that number to double next year.

Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are free online classes that universities all over the world provide. Stanford University began offering free MOOCs in 2006. Oxford University began offering free online classes in 2009.

But, these classes are not part of a degree program.

I’m Pete Musto.

Elizabeth Lee reported and wrote this story for VOA news. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Now it’s your turn. Do you think online classes work as well as classes at a physical school? What other low cost opportunities for higher education do you know about? Let us know in the Comments Section below or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

realize(d) – v. to understand or become aware of something

opportunitiesn. amounts of time or a situations in which something can be done

formaladj. received in a school

residentn. someone who lives in a particular place

scholarship(s) – n. money that a government, school or organization gives or loans to students to help pay for their education

tuitionn. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

onlineadj. done over the Internet

accessibleadj. able to be used or obtained

affordableadj. able to be paid for at a low cost

applicationn. a formal and usually written request for something

internship(s) – n. a period of time when a student or recent graduate works at a job in order to get experience

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