University of the People Review: Education and social responsibility in action is a beautiful thing
I have never been afraid of “uncharted territory” and trying different experiences. Growing up in an economically disadvantaged community with very few opportunities prepares you for uncertainty. The area I grew up in was a typical blue collar community, largely dependent upon factory employment. When the economy took a downturn in the early 80s, the city never really recovered. There were mass lay-offs and people subsisted on working more than one job, grabbing temp work, or moving in with extended family. For most of the people who surrounded me, getting by was just the goal. Most of the females that I knew in high school were having children, and dropping out. My family had many “old time” notions, a woman’s “accomplishment” in life was to have kids. They were not big on education; the expectation was that you were lucky to get some local low-paying job. If needed to get by, maybe apply for government assistance. My grandparents never got beyond grade school, my parents dropped out of high school. Poverty does that to people; it stifles ambition, so does a lack of education.
I wanted more, and I knew that education was the only way it was going to happen for me. By attending adult night school for extra credits, while still enrolled in regular high school, I graduated at sixteen years of age. I wanted out that badly. After graduation, with no support system, or finances to attend college, I joined the military. While serving in the military, I obtained an associate’s degree and eventually began a bachelor’s degree program. My focus was technology and education, and my current employment combines both fields. I have always held the desire to obtain an MBA, however, as a single parent; the finances were a concern.
Several years ago, I came across University of the People online. I researched them and thought it was an exciting notion, but at that time, they were not accredited. Upon hearing in 2014 that they had gained accreditation, I began monitoring them again. The only issue was that they were not offering graduate degrees. To their credit, they had grown the undergrad degree offerings and formed credible partnerships with other universities and well-known businesses. At this point, I was in repayment for my student loans and unsure whether I could go back to school. Unexpectedly and fortuitously, University of the People announced in 2016 that they were offering an MBA program. Financially, it now became feasible for me to pursue an MBA. Let me state, University of the People is not free, it is TUITION-free with one assessment fee per course, which is not paid until the end of the course. Textbooks and relevant course resources are included with every single class in an e-book format. I choose to print out mine because I am a paper kind of person.
Many people wonder about the quality of the program, as a current student and one that has previously completed graduate-level coursework, I can state that the curriculum is relevant and rigorous. The application process requires the same items that other universities do, a prior completed undergrad degree, relevant work experience, and letters of recommendation. If English is not your first language, you must prove adequate proficiency to enroll. If your prior transcripts are not in English, you will have to get them translated. The university does have scholarships, but only for first-time degree-seeking students; therefore, they are not currently available for graduate studies. Why? Because their primary mission has been to assist those with no or limited financial opportunities to get their foot in the education door. They do state that is subject to change, having seen their growth, I can see this happening.
The program is 36 credit hours and designed to be completed in one year, but the students can decide the appropriate pace for themselves and opt to study part-time. Classes are no more than twenty students, the learning management system is a robust suite called Moodle. It is easy to navigate, and it is packed with everything you will need to be successful, as long as you apply yourself. I work full-time and find that I spend at least ten to fifteen hours a week studying and completing assignments. For example, my current course, which is in a 9-week format requires five assignments a week to be completed; they vary from discussion forums to written papers. There is no late work. The expectation is that you will manage your time appropriately, if you experience issues, you will communicate immediately with your instructor and your program advisor as applicable. The program starts you off with a minimum of three graduate-level foundation courses designed to ensure that a student is capable of completing graduate-level work. Once those courses are completed and passed with the required GPA, you are confirmed as degree-seeking. The foundation course credits do apply toward the completion of the MBA degree. The program is a lot of work and quite comparable to the brick and mortar graduate level coursework that I have completed, without accumulating the level of debt that accompanied them. My classmates are from a variety of countries, which brings a level of perspective and interaction that I have not previously experienced within a course setting.
Sometimes, when people learn how and where I am completing the degree, they ask about the credibility of the school’s accreditation. Understandably, this is a valid question. When completing my two prior undergrad degrees (Associate of Applied Science and a Bachelor of Science), I did so via some distance-learning courses. Some of those courses were accredited by the same organization, DEAC (formerly DETC), which accredited University of the People. Whenever I had a change of duty station, which prompted a move to a new college, most of the classes transferred with no issues. Frequent transfers are standard when one is in the military. Since leaving the military, I have been employed by non-profits, scientific and technical companies, research organizations, and government agencies. I have never experienced any issues obtaining good paying employment with credible organizations where a college degree was a basis for hiring.
Additionally, both of my prior degrees have been well received by positions that I have held with brick and mortar universities. As such, I know that the DEAC accreditation is a reputable one; the organization itself has been around since the 1920s and officially recognized by the United States Department of Education as an accrediting body. There are quality universities like UC-Berkeley who have opened their doors to top-performing University of the People students. They would not do so if the accreditation and quality of the programs were questionable.
For me, the opportunity to attend University of the People is a chance to further my potential and help usher in a new model for education. One that does not shackle a student to more debt for the rest of their lives, the current student debt in the United States is $1.3 trillion. According to Forbes, “The average student in the Class of 2016 has $37,172 in student loan debt.” By attending University of the People, you not only further your education, but also put a stop to the student loan insanity that is crippling millions of people before they even leave school. Education and social responsibility in action is a powerful principle that affects many on a long-term basis.
In considering whether to attend University of the People, you should carefully review the goals of your career; ensure that the degree program is a fit for your objectives. I think that every person has to advocate for the opportunities that they wish to pursue in life. Each of us has different goals, and you are responsible for doing your research to find out what educational opportunities will align adequately with yours.