Milestones in the History of the University of the People
Founded on the belief that access to higher education is a fundamental right for all, University of the People was established in 2009 to address the global need for accessible low-cost, high-quality online education. In January 2009, President Shai Reshef announced the establishment of University of the People, the first ever non-profit, tuition-free, degree granting online university at the DLD Conference in Munich, Germany. That same month the State of California licensed UoPeople as a non-profit institution of higher education, authorized to award undergraduate and graduate degrees. In May 2009, the university was formally announced at the UN. Shai Reshef was also named to UN GAID’s High-Level Panel of Advisers. In May 2009, Fast Company named President Reshef as one of its 100 Most Creative People in Business.
In September 2009, the University enrolled its first cohort of 177 students who came from 49 countries around the world. It began with four programs – Associate and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Computer Science. In October 2009 UoPeople signed its first academic research agreement with Yale Law School’s Information Society Project (Yale ISP).
In 2010, in recognition of President Reshef’s vision of making higher education a basic right for every qualified student around the world, The Huffington Post Selected President Reshef as the Ultimate Game Changer in Education. In September 2010 at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), UoPeople committed to provide full scholarships to 250 Haitians in support of that country’s post-earthquake recovery efforts. In November 2010, 16 Haitian students began their studies at a dedicated Student Computer Center in Port-au-Prince, where students were given a place to study with computers, satellite internet connection and security.
In June 2011, UoPeople signed its first academic agreement with New York University. The collaboration created the opportunity for UoPeople’s top performing students, who have completed at least one year of study, to apply for admission and generous financial aid at NYU’s prestigious and highly selective Abu Dhabi campus.
In July 2011, as part of the HP Catalyst Initiative, Hewlett-Packard announced the creation of an internship program for UoPeople students to help prepare them for work in today’s global economy. This was the university’s first major corporate partnership. Through the partnership, HP generously committed to the sponsorship and mentorship of 200 women worldwide, established Virtual Research Internships, provided computers for the learning center in Haiti, and gave general support to help UoPeople achieve accreditation.
In 2012, UoPeople joined with ASAL Technologies to create a technology center in Ramallah, Palestine, awarded its first Associate of Science degrees, and received its first significant support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue its accreditation.
In 2013 UoPeople received support from Google, Western Union, and others. UoPeople enjoyed the support of leaders of the academic world with the formation of its new President’s Council, composed of distinguished active and emeritus leaders from top universities all over the world. The founding members of the President’s Council chaired by NYU President Emeritus John Sexton, were Sir Colin Lucas (University of Oxford), Judith Shapiro (Barnard College President Emerita), and Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (George Washington University President Emeritus).
In February 2014, with 500 enrolled students, UoPeople became accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). In April 2014, UoPeople awarded its first Bachelor of Science degrees. The graduates, seven in total, came from four different countries: Jordan, Nigeria, Syria and the United States. In August 2014, President Reshef gave a TED Talk at the 2014 TED Conference. With over 6 million views to date, and translated into 37 languages, TED has uniquely spread the word about UoPeople and helped with publicity to reach students and supporters around the globe. Following its accreditation and President’s Reshef TED talk, UoPeople has entered a phase of accelerated growth.
In 2015, UoPeople was honored by the White House with an invitation for President Reshef to brief members of the White House’s National Security Council (NCS). In the Fall of 2015, UoPeople announced its Emergency Refugee Initiative. In response to the crisis in Syria, UoPeople committed to accepting at least 500 refugees and provide them with scholarships to pursue associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. This was more than any other college or university. UoPeople was fortunate to receive generous grants toward this initiative from Foundation Hoffmann and the Oak Foundation.
In January 2016, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco awarded the prestigious 2016 Prince’s Prize for Innovative Philanthropy to President Shai Reshef for his work with UoPeople. In March 2016, UoPeople launched the world’s first tuition-free, accredited online MBA to address the great demand in the job market for candidates with advanced qualifications. The university also launched its first health science program – Community and Public Health – to address the demand for skilled healthcare workers worldwide.
In June 2017, University of the People received generous funding from the Ford Foundation toward its Syrian refugee initiative. In October 2017, the university entered yet another high-profile academic partnership. The collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and University of the People supports those uprooted by war, famine and natural disasters and serves to further open the gates of opportunity to UoPeople students. In November 2017, President Reshef was invited to meet His Holiness Pope Francis in the Vatican where the Pope praised the “commitment to social responsibility, to building a more just and more human world,” by educating refugees and migrants. The Pope spoke of the need of “offering distance learning for those who live in camps or reception centers and by making scholarships available”.
In January 2018, UoPeople announced that American gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, Simone Biles, will be the university’s first Global Ambassador, launching The Education Revolution and the Simone
Biles Legacy Scholarship Fund for foster kids and others. In October 2018, UoPeople launched a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Advanced Teaching Degree in partnership with the International Baccalaureate. The M.Ed. program will produce a new generation of globally minded educators with an in-depth knowledge of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment to support student-directed inquiry, interdisciplinary learning, intercultural competence, and critical thinking.
In April 2019, UoPeople celebrated its first ever graduation ceremony and 10th anniversary with a celebration in New York City. Students, graduates, administrators, and supporters gathered together to mark a decade of success for the University. The University also announced its partnerships with the German and US governments to provide scholarships for students around the world to study with UoPeople.
In March 2020, UoPeople received eligibility to proceed with an application for accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The University also launched its Business Administration in Arabic program as a solution to the higher education crisis in the MENA region. For refugees and displaced populations around the globe who cannot study in any language other than Arabic, this online, tuition-free degree is a major step toward solving the lack of education solutions.
In 2021, UoPeople announced its collaborations with distinguished institutions worldwide, including Harvard Business School Online, McGill University (Canada), Effat University (Saudi Arabia) and Long Island University. The University also launched nine certificate programs in Business Administration and Health Science.
Today, UoPeople has grown to over 75,000 enrolled students from more than 200 countries and territories around the world. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, UoPeople is run by hundreds of volunteers worldwide and a cadre of paid staff. Its academic personnel work from home and are located throughout the globe. Administrators work in offices in Pasadena, New York, Tel Aviv (Israel), Ramallah (Palestine), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Mysore (India).