Online university provides free college for illegal immigrants

An online university is providing an affordable alternative to using taxpayer funds to subsidize college for illegal immigrants.

The issue of higher education for illegal immigrants who moved to the United States as children is under intense debate in Washington, D.C. According to the American Immigration Council, over 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate from high school in the United States every year.

In-state tuition, a tuition subsidy to residents of a public university’s state, is currently extended to illegal residents and non-citizens in seventeen states. Among a number of education-related proposals, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley all support measures to provide in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants in the states they reside.

Education entrepreneur Shai Reshef’s private non-profit university, the University of the People (UoPeople), has provided an independent solution for at least some illegal immigrants. The university launched in 2009, received accreditation in 2014, and currently has 2,500 students. The university provides degrees in business administration and computer science.

In an interview with NPR, Reshef explained that while the university provides an affordable education for students around the world, half are from the United States. A quarter of that number, about 300, are illegal immigrants.

Instead of tuition, students pay for each exam they take. That amounts to approximately $4,000 for a bachelor’s degree, which is cheaper than just one year at the most inexpensive in-state tuition at a public university in the country. A quarter of the students receive scholarships allowing them to attend for free.

UoPeople covers much of its expenses through partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard and organizations such as the Clinton Global Initiative, UNESCO, and Amnesty International. The partnerships cover the costs of scholarships and mentorship/employment programs.

Improving access to education is the driving force behind initiatives such as UoPeople. However, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Reshef argued that while there should be limited options for students to attend college for free, they should not necessarily be part of a blanket program.

“I do not believe tuition-free should be for everyone...The top research universities should be there and they will continue charging what they charge," Reshef said.

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