NYU supports University of the People, free online education

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The University of the People, a tuition-free online university, received accreditation on Feb. 13 from a national agency and will graduate its first class of seven students later this year.

NYU has collaborated with the University of the People since its launch in 2009 and NYU professors hold administrative positions within the online university.

NYU President John Sexton said the University of the People’s dedication to promoting higher education for disadvantaged students is impressive.

“We [are] proud of NYU’s collaboration with the University of the People, which provides us with additional avenues in identifying bright and ambitious candidates who might be right for NYU,” Sexton said.

Sexton formed a relationship with Shai Reshef, founder and president of the University of the People, after hearing him speak about the online university at a conference. Reshef said Sexton threw his support behind the university immediately.

“We reached an agreement with NYU where our best students, after a year with us, can apply and be accepted to NYU Abu Dhabi,” Reshef said. “The students who come to us, as successful as they are, would never dream of NYU as an option. For NYU, it’s a great way to reach students who they would not get otherwise.”

Sexton said the agreement between NYU Abu Dhabi and the University of the People has worked wonderfully.

“Already a man from Haiti and a woman from Afghanistan have been identified and admitted to NYU Abu Dhabi, where they will benefit from an education that was beyond their dreams before they found the University of the People,” Sexton said.

NYU does not currently offer online courses for credit in any of its undergraduate programs, but faculty members are researching and working to develop models of education that incorporate online learning.

Ann Marcus, director of the Steinhardt Institute of Higher Education Policy, said online courses are useful for anyone who wants to learn and the University of the People offers that opportunity in an organized manner.

“[University of the People] a great platform for online learning,” Marcus said. “People around the world are hungry for the opportunity to learn about artificial intelligence or some new area of science and technology.”

However, she also said research for online courses is still in the early stages. She remains uncertain as to whether courses taken exclusively online can amount to a degree of value.

“We’re still in the learning phase,” Marcus said. “How this translates down the line into actual credit-bearing work and degree work really remains to be seen.”

Jan Plass, Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences in Steinhardt, agreed with Marcus and questioned the worth of a degree earned without ever entering a classroom.

“There will be a huge difference between what you get for free and what you get for $50,000,” Plass said.

Plass said she is looking forward to further research on this topic and hopes to see NYU incorporate hybrid courses of both online and in-class learning into its curriculum.

Reshef invites NYU students and professors to support the University of the People and sees his university as a model for NYU to look to in its ongoing research on online education.

“Now that we are accredited and in front of accelerated growth, I think it is time to start welcoming NYU students and professors to come and join us,” Reshef said.

Mimi McCann is a contributing writer. Email her at news@nyunews.com. 

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