Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Free Online University Tests the Waters - Blog 2

Last week, I wrote about Ghana and how their public school system is currently failing the children of the country. To me, the base of a good education starts at the beginning with the basic skills: reading, writing, and mathematics. However, to truly start creating a global economy full of enlightened thinkers, higher education should be promoted worldwide. The article that I read this week in the New York Times talks about a man with a dream of making higher education feasible for people from every country.

Shai Reshef decided that he wanted to pull together the vast amount of resources that American universities have and make them accessible to every interested student (regardless of economic status or social class). He created the University of the People (UoPeople), "an online school offering a four-year U.S.-style undergraduate education for free" (Guttenplan, 2012). Many professors were interested in the idea, so they volunteer their time and knowledge for free. The university is entirely online, with students completing a weekly unit of learning for a set period of weeks per course. They only offer two degree programs: business administration and computer science. One of the goals of UoPeople is to provide students with practical degrees at a limited cost.

I think that this seems like a great idea in theory, and I’ll be interested to see if UoPeople passes the accreditation assessment that they are currently undergoing. Just think about all of the resources that we as students (and faculty) have here at UNCG. Online services at our fingertips, as well as the option to take online classes (and even if your class isn’t online, it most likely has some information posted in an online forum somewhere). Now, think about all of that information being available to a student interested in a business administration degree in Ghana (or China, or Zimbabwe, or Iran, or any other country in the world). How incredible would that be? Not only would it provide working knowledge of technology to people from developing countries, but also it would help create and mend cultural relationships. People from various countries would learn how to work together in a professional environment, building trust and appreciation cross-culturally. Imagine if this were available to every potential college student (traditional age or not) across the globe. This is exactly what I meant when I said in my Icebreaker post that education is an incredibly important tool for fixing many of the other global social problems. If people are educated about certain things and have critical thinking skills, they have the capacity to take that knowledge and use it to solve problems in other areas. This would create even higher levels of globalization, as well as potentially increase the social class of citizens around the world in their respective countries, which could have a trickle-down effect and help boost their local economy, as well as encourage other students to seek education…the list of positive outcomes goes on and on.

(Now to list some obvious issues…) While this seems like a great idea, I wonder how much equality it will really bring in the long run. Unless a multitude of international governments support this, it is unlikely that it will really have the impact that Reshef wants it to, since some governments do not push education as a major social issue. Also, unless people have access to at least some form of technology, they will not be able to participate. Even though this university is low-cost, those without access to computers or internet would still be left out. It’s hard to know how this will play out, but it will definitely fizzle if they do not become accredited, as their diplomas will become meaningless and somewhat of a waste of time. Like I said, I’m interested to see how it all plays out over the next few years and the impact that UoPeople will really have, as well as how many countries and international students it will reach…and then what they will do with that knowledge (maybe they’ll help their home countries, maybe they’ll go abroad and seek a job thus supporting a different economy, and most likely one that is already fairly stable). We’ll see!

Guttenplan, D. D. "A Free Online University Tests the Waters -" The New York Times . N.p., 2 Sept. 2012. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. <>.

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