A free online university has grown to 126,000 students. What can it teach traditional colleges?

When Shai Reshef started a free online university called University of the People nearly 15 years ago, skepticism was high. Online education was viewed as a poor substitute for in-person study, and anyway, how could something free be financially sustainable?

The college has won accreditation. It has grown to serve 126,000 students. And it has some 37,000 volunteers. Its student body comes from all around the world, though 51 percent are first-generation students living in the U.S. And it has worked to support students who have unique obstacles to higher ed, including more than 16,000 refugees.

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