While federal law does not forbid undocumented immigrants from attending colleges in the United States, the debilitating costs and ban on government aid prevents many from doing so. And while a few states, like California and Texas, have made undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state financial aid programs, their numbers still pale in comparison to the vast number of states and universities that do not provide assistance.
But these students may have an alternative in the University of the People, a tuition-free, online-only university that aims to make it easier for undocumented immigrants as well as those living in tough situations to get a college degree. Israeli-born Shai Reshef started the University of the People six years ago, and today it boasts 2,500 students. “We have students from 170 countries,” Reshef told NPR. “We have refugees, survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, the genocide in Rwanda. But about a quarter of our U.S. students are undocumented.”
Students do have to pay $100 for every final exam, but the incurred costs total a much more attainable $4,000 by the time they’ve graduated. And for those who don’t have the money, scholarships from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Intel are available.
The school has received approval from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, and it has bolstered its academic standing through partnerships with New York University, UC Berkeley, Yale, and Oxford.
Read more about Reshef and the University of the People here.
Update, 10/29: University of People is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. While the online school does have ties to more established companies, it is not clear whether employers would see it as legitimate. In 2013, The New York Times followed up with some former University of People students and found varying experiences.