The incredible fraud of University of the People aka UoPeople: the scam offering fake "free" degrees online

Through a list of FAQ, we will debunk the most common myths about the University of the People, founded by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef. First of all, University of the people is not free: they turned tuition into exam fees, which you must pay anyway. Unethical ads! And the accreditation is ridiculous.


Myths and misconceptions about University of the People aka UoPeople: frequently asked questions

University of the People (UoPeople) is an American institution in Pasadena, California, USA

False! Truth: University of the People has no campus, nor does it have offices or real phone numbers in the US, because UoPeople is located in Israel, not in the USA, and the paid administrative staff are also Israeli people (they speak English though). They just have a PO box — aka "virtual office" — in America and claim it to be their "administrative office". If you go to their (hypothetical) location in Pasadena, you will not find them: you will find a "virtual office" instead, belonging to Davinci Virtual Office Solutions. Scam! By the way, since it is basically a shared PO box, you can also share their address (225 South Lake Ave Suite 300 Pasadena, CA 91101) for just $99/month. See also the location of the PO box in Google Maps and Google Street View (please note that Google Street View seems to work properly only on desktop computers): where is University of the People? Surprise: it doesn't exist, as you can see in the photo. The only phone number they advertise is actually a rented virtual number: there are no US landlines (or mobile phone lines) whatsoever. Try to phone them: who will answer the phone? Nobody. Or, to be exact, an answering machine. This is why their website states

we are unable to take incoming calls and our phone number goes directly to a voice message service.

Welcome to an innovative "university", which refuses to take phone calls.

University of the People is being run from Israel, not from "Pasadena, California, USA". Nobody, in Pasadena or in America, has ever seen this "University of the People". Their website, as well as their countless sponsored news articles and press releases, deliberately omit this important information. In other words, University of the People does not disclose the real location (country and address), and leads the reader to believe that the address in California — which is actually a PO box — is the real office of a real American university. This amounts to a serious lack of transparency.

University of the People (UoPeople) is the world's first tuition-free online university, which is helping humanity through free education

False! Truth: instead of using the word "tuition", they prefer the expression "exam fees", which you will have to pay anyway. Their courses are not free, and you will have to pay thousands of dollars in total.

In other words, tuition is not free: this scam is conceived to steal money, and more importantly to rip off poor people in developing countries.

From a page in their website (obviously, not their main page…):

University of the People is tuition-free but not free. Our fees help to maintain our tuition-free online degree structure.

That statement insults everyone's intelligence. Seriously, who do they think they are fooling? Basically they want money so they can be "tuition-free". And they are "tuition-free" only if you pay money. This kind of sophistry is ridiculous to say the least.

University of the People (UoPeople) is accredited

True… but with very limited accreditation! Truth: first of all, University of the People is not regionally accredited in the US. Regional accreditation is a reputable form of American accreditation. For example, it allows you to transfer credits from an institution to others, or to qualify for state licensure.

On the other hand, UoPeople's non-regional accreditation — DEAC, a previously defunct national accreditation, and now only valid for online degrees — is pretty bad, which is why all credits will not transfer to most major colleges or universities and in most cases will not qualify you for state licensure.

Remember: in the USA, regional accreditation is the best accreditation for a college and/or a university, while the so-called "national accreditations" have a very bad reputation and are sometimes questionable.

You can attend for free! You only have to pay later

False! Truth: you must pay what they call a "non-refundable registration fee" — in other words, you must pay just to complete the registration process on the website. Bottom line: if you don't pay, you can't attend. Since this school claims to be an organization that helps students from developing countries, what they don't understand — or pretend not to understand — is that $60 is a lot of money for a student in a low-income country, especially if this "fee" is totally useless. Have they ever been to, say, Chad or Benin? $60 is more than what a worker can earn in a whole year.

University of the People (UoPeople) offers an accredited MBA

False! Truth: the MBA is not accredited by any business school accreditation bodies (e.g. AACSB, AMBA, EQUIS). It only has the DEAC national accreditation, which has nothing to do with MBAs. In other words, if you are serious about a career in finance, this fake "MBA" will be completely useless simply because nobody in the international business world will recognize it as a real MBA. In the meantime, the "tuition-free" University of the People will already have asked you to pay all the compulsory fees: several thousand dollars altogether for a useless piece of paper.

University of the People (UoPeople) offers lots of scholarships

Very unlikely! Truth: there is no good statistical evidence that UoPeople is actually offering lots of scholarships, despite their ads. Do you know any students who are on a full scholarship at UoPeople, either Bachelor or MBA? And more importantly, these ads about the (hypothetical) scholarships contradict the claim that UoPeople is tuition-free. If courses were free, there would be no need to be advertising clickbait articles about scholarships so much. This is how the scholarship-related scam works:

  1. people — especially poor people — look for scholarships on the Internet;
  2. they come across sponsored articles claiming that "a tuition-free university is giving lots of scholarships";
  3. people click the article but end up paying fees for the next four years.

You can also do this very simple experiment: after paying the compulsory $60 registration fee on the website, contact University of the People's reps and tell them you are interested in getting a scholarship for their Bachelor (business administration, computer science, health science) or for the MBA. Guess what… they will say they just ran out of scholarships "due to the limited resources and the intrinsic distance-learning nature of the school" (??). What a coincidence: due to the limited resources, you just ran out of scholarships… but you keep advertising them! In any case, the bottom line is that the invented scholarships are just fake ads. In the meantime, they got your $60.

University of the People (UoPeople) is a legit, internationally recognized school, accredited all over the world

False! Truth: UoPeole's low-quality non-regional accreditation (DEAC) is not recognized elsewhere. For example, if you want to use your hypothetical UoPeople degree in South Africa, you will find out that your degree is invalid. See also Education department warns new university (UoPeople) is fraudulent: the government of South Africa banned University of the People/UoPeople because it is not recognized by the Department of education and UoPeople refused to register with the Department of Education as required by law. In other words, for the government of South Africa, UoPeople is not a legitimate accredited school because DEAC is not a legit international accreditation. However, University of the People doesn't care, and the launch of UoPeople in South Africa was covered by bombarding television and newspapers with ads across the country, highlighting the desperate demand for (fake) "free" higher education. UoPeople was — and is still — very interested in South Africa because this country represents the most profitable market in the African continent, where they can recruit the highest number of paying students. To UoPeople's surprise, it seems that the government of South Africa cannot be easily deceived, though.

The reality is UoPeople is not accredited and not legally recognized in 99.99% of the world's countries. A UoPeople degree is just a useless piece of paper almost everywhere, which cost you thousands of dollars.

University of the People (UoPeople) says you will immediately find a job with their degree

Unlikely! Truth: lots of US graduates actually decided to omit their degree on their resume due to the prevalent discrimination from employers towards dubious non-regional "DEAC accredited" online schools such as UoPeople, which are considered diploma mills or degree mills. Thousands of students graduated from schools having a real regional accreditation; competing in the job market will be more difficult for you, because their schools' reputation is much better. University of the People's perception and DEAC accreditation will be pretty embarrassing in your resume, and in most cases the degree will not qualify you for state licensure.

University of the People's reps, who sometimes disguise themselves as "students", know the slim job prospects for their graduates, and their aggressive and harmful recruiting (student) tactics is well-known, mostly via email and Facebook, which they bombard with ads, fake reviews and sponsored news articles and press releases. The reality is: there are no jobs. It is not true what UoPeople's reps say on Facebook: "Plenty of people with our degrees are working for big corporations that will hire you as well, such as Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Google and many more". It is just advertising and PR, which insult people's intelligence in order to extort tuition disguised as "examination fees".

I was approached online by a UoPeople "student" who said: "Feel free to message me with any questions" and invited me to pay a $60 registration fee to study with the "best university in the world"

Beware of scams! Truth: unfortunately, UoPeople reps often disguise themselves as "students". This also happens in their website, where they created a fake "contact a student" section, or on the Facebook page, where they invite you to "contact a student". Unluckily, you are not contacting a "student"; on the contrary, you are contacting a (hidden) rep. The tactic is simple: they will bombard you with spam, ads and plenty of other useless stuff just to convince you to sign up and pay the registration fee. The same reps also write hundreds of fake reviews and fake articles on the Internet, even on well-known websites, saying that UoPeople is "wonderful". As for the claim that "University of the People is the best university in the world"… well, it is so ridiculous that there is no need to comment.

University of the People's employees and teachers are "volunteers"

False! Truth: UoPeople, which is based in Israel, pays the Israeli employees very well, especially the ones who write fake positive reviews all over the Internet — including Facebook — usually together with sponsored press releases or sponsored news articles in the US, that is to say ads. Examples: Michael Kessler, Asaf Wolff and Sarah Vanunu, who all live and work in Israel. On the other hand, Shai Reshef also hires underpaid non-Israeli teachers, who work remotely. The NDA (employment contract) that they must sign clearly states that they are independent contractors — and not volunteers! — paid from $100/month to $200/month. In other words, "volunteering" is just an excuse to exploit people and have them work under the table without a decent salary. Besides, salaries for exploited young workers in Africa are even lower! …mainly in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, but also Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. And while University of the People makes lots of money through the mandatory tuition that they call "examination fees", Reshef doesn't have to pay the taxes because this mechanism is disguised as a "non-profit American university" thanks to one PO box ("virtual office") in the US. What a fraud.

University of the People has built a computer center for students in Haiti

False! (and they should be ashamed) Truth: this fake news appeared in UoPeople's sponsored articles just after the terrible earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, together with a fake picture created by UoPeople reps claiming that they were helping people in Haiti. University of the People started to raise money, announcing that the institution was building "a computer center for students in Haiti". Not only has UoPeople never built anything, but unfortunately some charity organizations and individual citizens generously agreed to give money, thus being scammed.

University of the People partners with the United Nations and/or its agencies

False! Truth: this is another piece of fake news that used to appear on UoPeople's sponsored articles, and still appears on their website. The United Nations and its agencies do not have any partnerships with University of the People, nor is University of the People affiliated with them. As the United Nations' official website states (click here),

BEWARE OF SCAMS IMPLYING ASSOCIATION WITH THE UNITED NATIONS

The United Nations has been made aware of various correspondences, being circulated via e-mail, from Internet web sites, text messages and via regular mail or facsimile, falsely stating that they are issued by, or in association with the United Nations and/or its officials. These scams, which may seek to obtain money and/or in many cases personal details from the recipients of such correspondence, are fraudulent.

[…] [In particular:] The United Nations does not offer prizes, awards, funds, certificates, compensation, scholarships […]

Nevertheless, University of the People keeps telling us they have partnerships and/or affiliations with the UN, and even uses the UN logo (without showing they are legally authorized to do so) just to mislead people. Example of fake news spread by University of the People (click here in case they delete it):

(Pasadena, CA. Sunday, Nov 23.) University of the People (UoPeople) President Shai Reshef in partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Israel has announced the launch of a collaborative project opening the gates to tuition-free, accredited higher education for refugees and asylum seekers all over the world.

University of the People (UoPeople) is academically rigorous

Funny! Truth: the "exams" are a joke (see also the "Students" section below). They are basically the same questions as the weekly quizzes, which you can learn by heart and take infinitely online until you get the best score. University of the People is only interested in getting the "examination fee", which is your tuition — or your series of installments; they can't care less about tests or exams, which they actually copy/paste from other (real) university's free websites.

University of the People (UoPeople) developed a mobile app for iOS and Android to help poor people who can only access the Internet through slow connections

False! Truth: University of the People never developed an app to help people who use slow Internet connections from developing countries. Neither Google Play nor the Apple App Store has ever had this imaginary app. Actually, UoPeople's hidden subscription-based website — the non-refundable entry fee to visit the real website (and not just the promotional part) is $60 — is slow on all low-end mobile devices and reading the pages is difficult.

University of the People (UoPeople) is tuition-free because the school only asks for money during the "final exam"

False! Truth: firstly, there is a non-refundable entry fee just to activate the account. So, the whole process cannot be "free". Moreover, University of the People does not even have a "final exam", because it does not run any final exams at the end of an academic term or of a complete degree course. The payments are very simple: you have to pay otherwise you can't pass each exam — not to be confused with the weekly quizzes, which are basically multiple-choice tests taken from other universities' websites (that don't ask for any "entry fees" to take the tests).

University of the People works with Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Columbia University, New York University, Oxford University (UK) etc.

False! Truth: we suggest you do this simple experiment. Phone Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, New York University, Oxford University — luckily they all have a real phone number, unlike UoPeople that doesn't have one — and ask them if they "have a partnership", if they "work with", of if they "are affiliated with" University of the People, as UoPeople's reps claim. The answer is: no, the universities of Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Columbia and New York have nothing to do with UoPeople. Nor is it true that "if you study with UoPeople you will get a master's from the University of Berkeley and NYU": there is no guarantee that, through UoPeople, you can receive a master's from Berkeley or NYU. Nevertheless, University of the People keeps distributing old sponsored articles and press releases — which usually date back to 2010 or so — in order to mislead the reader. When University of the People claimed to be helping Haiti or some African countries, a few of those institutions agreed to collaborate or give money — which was the right choice, since these countries needed and still need help. Too bad it all turned out to be a scam, and UoPeople did nothing in Haiti or Africa. The result is that nobody is giving money, or collaborating, anymore.

Moreover, it is funny that UoPeople mentions Ivy League institutions and/or MIT etc.: other universities, for them, are worthless. A pretty naive PR strategy.

Many leading academics, professors and researchers from the best universities in the world are teaching at UoPeople

False! Truth: UoPeople's Israeli staff just wrote those names in the website to start an advertising campaign, especially ten years ago. Those professors' names are still there, but none of them teach, or taught, at UoPeople.

Is UoPeople a scam? No, because I find hundreds of articles all over the Internet claiming that University of the People is the best school in the world, helping Africa and the entire human race through scholarships, and so on

False! Truth: again, it's all about advertising. Ten years ago, when nobody knew this "new tuition-free school", Reshef started to pay newspapers and websites to publish nice articles about UoPeople in order to start collecting fees from the first students who decided to sign up. Keep in mind that journalists had no idea what they were talking about, since they had never seen this "University of the People" — as we said, the American address is just a PO box (so you can't see anything) and the real address is in Israel, but they were not aware of this important scam. Today, journalists are much more suspicious of UoPeople, and are not writing so many articles anymore, though you could still find some recent stuff.

A similar thing happens on websites like Quora, Wikipedia, Medium, Reddit etc.: in this case, there is no need to pay a journalist… UoPeople reps write fake reviews themselves for free. In other words, you are not reading reviews written by UoPeople students, but ads written by UoPeople reps.

Well, after all, even if it's not "tuition-free", University of the People is super cheap, while other universities are expensive. It's a bargain, UoPeople is worth it!

False! Truth: why should we buy a useless piece of paper that UoPeople calls "MBA", for thousands of dollars, when we can print the same piece of paper ourselves? Cost of the latter option: zero dollars. As for other universities, you will receive a real, respectable and fully accredited MBA, which is why they are "expensive".

Great news! US gymnast Simone Biles left UCLA and is now a student at University of the People. She is also giving scholarships!

False! Truth: typical fake news from UoPeople. Go to Simone Biles' official website: it never says that she left University of California at Los Angeles — which is a very important, respected and regional accredited school — to study with UoPeople. All the sponsored articles and press releases on the web, and all the videos produced by University of the People, are just ads/commercials featuring Simone Biles (we will never know if she has been paid to shoot these videos). In other words, it is a typical advertising — and misleading — campaign, where Biles acts as a "spokeswoman" or "global ambassador". As usual, it is unclear if the advertised scholarships actually exist.

UoPeople ranking is great, especially UoPeople MBA ranking

False! Truth: because of the ridiculous non-regional DEAC accreditation, UoPeople is not taken seriously as a "university" and is not ranked anywhere. No global world ranking mentions "University of the People" or "UoPeople", let alone its MBA.

The application is very serious and the acceptance rate of UoPeople is low, because this school is very selective

False! Truth: the acceptance rate is 100%. Just after you sign up and send your application, they want you to pay the registration fee as soon as possible. In other words, the only real requirement is your money; if you don't pay, you won't be accepted and you won't be allowed to log in to the website. It doesn't matter whether you understand English or not. Some people even managed to be accepted with fake African high school diplomas.

UoPeople is not a diploma mill

Doubtful. Truth: technically the Israeli "university" UoPeople uses its (funny) DEAC American online accreditation, but it shares too many dubious and irregular practices with typical diploma mills.

I will have an awesome graduation ceremony

False! Truth: at UoPeople there is no such thing as "graduation ceremony". After you pay all the fees, you will get your piece of paper by mail. Basically, it works just like a diploma mill.

Students who are having problems with University of the People

This is what a student has to say about her situation.

I attended a state university before moving to another state and attending University of the People online. It is definitely low-cost compared to other schools, although not "tuition-free" as they claim in their misleading ads. But University of the People has a bad reputation and accreditation, while other schools have regional accreditations, which are much better. My experience with this school hasn't been great, and, speaking with other students, nor has it been for them.

The exams are ridiculous: they are the same questions as the weekly quizzes which you can take infinitely until you get a score of a hundred. What a joke! They just want your $100 (or $200) so you can pass the exam. As for the instructors, the only method of contact with faculty and staff is through email: the problem is that some teachers don't check their email very often. So how are we supposed to communicate? Simple: in this case we can't.

One of the most off-putting aspects of this school were the so-called written assignments. One is due almost every week. They are peer-graded: not teacher, peer. At UoPeople, "peer assessment" means that the assignment will be graded only by other students, not by a teacher. The big problem is that most students don't understand English well (they are not native speakers) or don't know how to write a well-written essay. More often than not, they didn't understand the lessons or the assignment itself. So in my situation I would write good essays and because some peers didn't understand the task of the assignment or didn't understand English, I would fail the assignment. At that point I would contact the teacher and ask him his two cents on the situation. 99% of the time it turns out the grade needed to be corrected because my assignment was done correctly. This was very frustrating, because it happened every week. Not to mention that your grade only got corrected if you managed to get in contact with the teacher. If he or she didn't check their email regularly, you are screwed with a bad grade and a wrong grading scale.

On the other hand, the students who don't understand the purpose of the assignment could also give the maximum score to other badly-written assignments, simply because they don't know what they have to do and don't even understand the language, or even because they are in a hurry. But when you are not this lucky — that is, getting the best score just for doing nothing — you are screwed with a bad grade again. Unbelievable.

For the record, their course material was just made up of Internet links, more often than not Wikipedia articles or PDF files belonging to other universities. Technically this is legal because the material is freely available online (thanks to the generosity of different, real, universities) but the fact that this school does not produce anything and just makes money through other people's books, articles, lecture notes, slides or whatever — without informing them, let alone paying them any compensation — leaves me totally horrified. It makes no sense to give money to University of the People, which is exploiting other people's material; it would be more reasonable to make a donation to the real authors, who never donated their books, webpages or slides to UoPeople.

I am currently in the process of attending another school, which needs all the transcripts, whether they take credits or not. I made my request and paid my transcript fees — yet another fee! — to UoPeople almost three months ago, and about a week ago I emailed the faculty to check on the status of the transcript. I got an email back saying they never received the request form or the payment. I had to go back, forward the original email with form and receipt (which they had sent me). A week later, there is still no update on whether they are doing anything about it. It looks like they don't want me to go because they want more money. A fellow student, who wanted to switch schools as well, went through the same dilemma.

If you still have the chance, avoid all these troubles and apply to a local community college; try to get real scholarships or financial aid. University of the People is not worth the money: it is just a waste of time and money, no matter how much.

This student didn't pay the last fee. This is what happened:

I am a poor boy and I live in the third world. Not only did UoPeople refuse to get me a scholarship, but when I ran out of money and couldn't pay the last "fee" the website wouldn't let me in anymore. That is, if you don't pay, they have your account disabled and you can't log in to the website anymore. Is this a "tuition-free" university??

Peer assessment at UoPeople: does it really work?

UoPeople's so-called "peer assessment" is driving me crazy. I did my assignment and got a zero (wow…) just because all the three peers that were supposed to grade my assignment forgot to grade it! I feel kind of cheated because I did my grading as I was supposed to and I have yet to hear anything from the teacher to address it. She is ignoring my emails; it looks like she is on vacation or maybe she left the course. I don't want to waste my time anymore and I'm thinking of just going back to the online school I was at. Goodbye UoPeople, and I hope I won't hear about your "tuition-free but not free" scam anymore. And please don't make me pay another fee to leave your "school", for heaven's sake.

Last but not least, this former teacher/instructor has some interesting things to add:

Last year I was hired by this online school. The salary was very low, and they had me sign a contract stating I must not talk to anyone about the contract itself. Basically they have you work illegally and say you are a "volunteer" just to avoid the taxes. I quit because I was fed up with this scam. In retaliation, they didn't pay my hours. They are making money from the poor students from underdeveloped countries, and cheating many charity organizations promising they will provide plenty of scholarships for Bachelors and MBAs… which I have never seen.

If you want to share this page with your friends, you can also use the short address tinyurl.com/uopeoplescam or tinyurl.com/uopeople-scam


References

Davinci virtual office in Pasadena
United Nations' official notice about online scams and frauds (including partnerships and scholarships)
UoPeople's fake partnership with the United Nations
Important: Education department warns new university is fraudulent