Shai Reshef on his mission to scale a sustainable model of non-profit, tuition-free, accredited, online academic institution

higher education innovative leader interviewShai Reshef is President & Founder of University of the People – the world’s first tuition-free, non-profit, accredited, online University dedicated to opening access to higher education. An educational entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in the international education market, President Reshef has been widely recognized for his work with UoPeople, including being named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business; joined UN-GAID as a High-level Adviser; granted membership in the Clinton Global Initiative; selected by The Huffington Post as the Ultimate Game Changer in Education; nominated as one of Wired Magazine’s 50 People Changing the World; and selected as a Top Global Thinker by Foreign Policy Magazine. His TED Talk: “An Ultra-Low-Cost College Degree” has been viewed by almost 2 million people in the last year.

Rahul – At University of People, you have created a large volunteer operation with over 3,000 volunteering professors, academic leaders and built a range of partnerships. What are your two most important lessons in successfully working with volunteers and partners?

Shai – I knew that there were good people out there – I just didn’t know how many. This was my biggest lesson!

  • People are willing to give of themselves and give to the world.
  • If you have a great idea, you will find great people who are willing to make it happen.
  • When you give you always get back more than you have given – (true for me and for them)
  • When you start a business you know some times are harder than you expected. Just reach out for assistance.
  • Be happy with whatever you can get. Remember that volunteers are not your employees. Set up fair expectations and be grateful for the support.

Rahul – In last six years, University of the People has emerged as the “world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited, online academic institution“. Based on your unique leadership perspectives in institution building, what are couple of things you would have done differently to further enhance the impact of the University?

Shai –

  • To have more budget allocated toward spreading the word.
  • UNESCO stated that in 2025, 100 million students will be deprived from higher education simply because there will not be enough seats to accommodate them, to meet the demand. Our main challenge is how to make the 100 million aware of us.
  • Due to our accelerated growth, for the first time in our history we are running out of scholarships. The mission of the University is that nobody will be turned away and no one will be left behind due to financial constraints. We have to continually dedicate more and more effort toward raising more scholarships in order to meet the growing demand.

Rahul – What are couple of strategic goals/initiatives you are looking forward to achieving in next three years?

Shai –

  • Sustainability: We will reach sustainability once we have 4,000 students; $2.5 million; and we expect this to happen in 2016. From that point on, we expect to continue our accelerated growth, to service the millions that need us and to build a model for others. In addition, we are on track to doubling the student number with every year.
  • We are currently in the process of developing 2 new programs – an MBA and a Bachelor of Health Science – to address the capacity-shortage problems that exist at traditional universities as well as addressing the requests of our students.