Wednesday, October 28, 2015

University of the People (but not, apparently the faculty)

I'd never heard of the University of the People until a few days ago, when NPR did a story (which Frankie's comment about this place becoming an online college reminded me of) about how it's helping undocumented students.  Apparently it's a real place, though, with nonprofit status and accreditation and a website and a facebook page and twitter account and everything.  And it's free, except for a $50 one-time admission-processing fee and a $100 fee for each final exam, which seems reasonable enough (according to the founder, this adds up to c. $4000 -- plus, of course, the cost of internet access -- for a bachelor's degree).  

I'm both intrigued and skeptical. Intrigued because there's still an idealistic part of me that believes strongly that education should be open to all, and would very much like to see this work.  Skeptical because -- well, for the obvious, if-it-sounds-too-good-to-be-true reasons, and also because it took me quite a bit of poking around the site, which is definitely aimed primarily at potential students (and, after that, apparently, potential non-faculty "leadership" "partners" of various sorts and the media), to figure out who is designing and teaching the classes. (Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I still tend to think that the heart of a university -- even, perhaps especially, an online university -- is the students and the faculty, and the interactions between/among them.)

As I rather suspected, the faculty appears to be made up of volunteers.   That wouldn't be so bad (hey, there's a real argument for actually volunteering, if you can afford it, instead of -- mandatory CEW shout-out -- feeding the adjunctification beast), but the fact that the faculty (unlike the Deans and Associate Deans, the advisory boards, the president's council, the board of trustees, assorted other administration types, and corporate, foundation, and academic partners) don't even rate a mention on the "our people" drop-down menu, or associated page, does rather stick in my craw.  I can't figure out if this is a laudable endeavor, or, like many MOOCS, an embodiment of some Dean-turned-entrepreneur (or vice versa)'s wet dream of a university free of those pesky, expensive  naysayers known as the faculty.  Maybe the faculty are so useless that we don't even count as people anymore? 

1 comment:

  1. It looks like the logical endpoint of edu-disrupto-preneurship (or whatever). Founded by an entrepreneur, funded with $1M/year in donations, instructors are unpaid volunteers, and the first graduating class was 17 students according to this NYT piece.

    For a quarter million dollars per graduate, you'd at least want accreditation, no?