Giving Thoughts


Q&A with Gabi Zedlmayer: Educating the World, Tuition Free

By Gabi Zedlmayer and Alice KorngoldUniversity_of_the_People_(UoPeople)_student_at_a_computer_center_in_Haiti

University of the People (UoPeople) bills itself as “the world’s first nonprofit, tuition-free, accredited, online, American university.” It was founded by entrepreneur Shai Reshef in 2009. Reshef told a TED conference in Vancouver in March, 2014, that he founded UoPeople “to create an alternative to those who have no other, an alternative that will be affordable and scalable, an alternative that will disrupt the current education system, open the gates to higher education for every qualified student regardless of what they earn, where they live, or what society says about them.” In this Q&A, Gabi Zedlmayer, who serves on UoPeople’s Computer Science Advisory Board, responds to questions about the organization.

Q: There are many institutions of higher education throughout the world, many that offer scholarships. What gap(s) does University of the People (UoPeople) seek to fill?

A: There are millions throughout the world for whom traditional institutions are not an option. UoPeople is the opportunity they’ve been lacking. Since the university’s establishment in 2009, it has grown to encompass a student body of over 10,000 from more than 200 countries and territories enrolled in seven degree-granting programs in business administration, computer science, and health science—fields in which there is high demand for skilled labor.

The students are taught, supported, and served by a network of over 6,000 volunteers. The university uses open-source technology, Open Educational Resources (OER), and peer-to-peer learning to keep costs minimal. Students are responsible for a $100 exam-processing fee per course ($200 in the MBA program), which, at ten courses per year, puts a modest $4,000 price tag on a four-year bachelor’s degree. For those students unable to afford these fees, the university offers a variety of scholarships underwritten by corporate, individual, and institutional donors. The online model allows for essentially unlimited student participation—everyone has a front row seat in the online classroom, and no one is left behind. At the same time, UoPeople courses are kept at an approximately 25:1 student-to-teacher ratio to maintain the high quality of instruction and attention.

Q: How does UoPeople track the success of their students after graduation?

A: UoPeople already has an impressive cohort of graduates putting their education to work. The university maintains close contact with its graduates not only to track their success but to involve them in its global network. Ninety-two percent of graduates are currently employed, almost all in a position related to their major. UoPeople graduates work at such companies as Amazon, AT&T, Dell, Deloitte, IBM, Microsoft, Sprint, the United Nations, United Health, Wells Fargo, and many more. One of the top three occupations listed by graduates is small business owner, and some graduates have gone on to pursue advanced degrees.

Q: In what ways does UoPeople work with companies?

A: UoPeople’s strong connections with the corporate world encompass a variety of partnerships that make the university stronger and engage businesses in the remarkable work that UoPeople does. For example:

  • Microsoft offered scholarships to qualified African students, in addition to assigning each scholar a Microsoft employee mentor, providing internship opportunities, and opening job opportunities within Microsoft and over 10,000 affiliates across Africa.
  • Hewlett Packard (HP) offered a scholarship and mentorship program to female students at UoPeople, in addition to internship opportunities within the company.
  • A generous donation from Western Union provides scholarships to students from Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Senegal, and Turkey.

Numerous companies support UoPeople with pro-bono services and in-kind donations:

  • Google provides a grant that allows the university to bid on prime advertising space and strategic assistance, in order to reach as broad an audience as possible
  • Twitter supports the university’s account at no cost, and proved extremely effective in recruiting among Syrian refugees.
  • A number of media, marketing, and tech companies provide their services to the university at little to no cost
  • Other free services provided by private firms to the university and its staff include legal counsel, presentation development and coaching, and professional advice related to degree programs and student services.

UoPeople relies heavily on cross-sector partnerships to provide a well-rounded experience that goes beyond high-quality academics to include internship and mentorship opportunities as well as preparation for job searching and eventual employment. Perhaps the most powerful thing a corporate partner can do is open the gates to qualified UoPeople graduates and offer them employment within the company.

Q: What is so compelling to you personally that you devote time as a volunteer galvanizing support?

A: During my time at HP, I became familiar with UoPeople and was really enchanted by its mission. It is well understood that education is a key ingredient in the advancement of social stability and global peace. UoPeople is an effective means by which to achieve these necessary ends, and I wanted to be a part of the incredible work they do. I joined the Computer Science Advisory Board, which comprises leading figures in academia and industry who offer a well-rounded approach to directing the content and evolution of the program. This ensures not only a high-quality education in computer science, but one that is specifically tailored to the demands of the market to which graduates will enter.

Impressed by the effectiveness of this education, HP underwrote a scholarship, mentorship, and internship program for female computer science students at UoPeople to better engage women in an industry in which they remain underrepresented. It’s so rewarding to be involved in an institution that makes such radical difference in the lives of so many, all over the world. It’s truly a joy and privilege to volunteer with UoPeople.

About the guest

Gabi Zedlmayer Computer Science Advisory Board Member University of the People

Gabi Zedlmayer
Computer Science Advisory Board Member
University of the People

Gabi Zedlmayer served as the VP & Chief Progress Officer of Corporate Affairs at HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise driving social innovations to help improve the state of the world. In 2015 and again in 2017 InspiringFifty named her as one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe. Zedlmayer earned a Bachelor’s degree in business from Georgia State University and a M.A. in Finance from the University of Miami.





About the author

Alice Korngold

Alice Korngold
A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot

Alice Korngold is co-editor of Giving Thoughts and the author of A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses (Jossey Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005). For over 20 years, she has been training and placing business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards and consulting to corporations, foundations, and NGOs/nonprofits on board governance, CSR, and sustainability. Twitter: @alicekorngold

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2 Responses to “Q&A with Gabi Zedlmayer: Educating the World, Tuition Free”

  1. Clare-Marie, this is Alice. Congratulations on your formidable achievements and all you’re doing to help more girls! That’s outstanding! I’m sure Gabi will be delighted to see your message.
    All the best to you,

  2. Clare-Marie Kafwimbi says:

    Gabi Zedlmayer, thank-you for the innovation and the heart to follow through with Uopeople. Because of this, I am able to fulfill my dream of earning a degree…something that has been hindered for a long time. I’m now in my second year at Uopeople pursuing a BS in Computer Science. I’m about to open a coding club at my school and am getting more involved in getting more underprivileged girls to open up to the world of technology – creating a tech-savvy generation – GIRLS FIRST!

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