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The Tragedy of Those Shut Out of Higher Education: It Needn't be Anymore

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The recent tragedy of the stampeding death of a prospective student's mother and the mile-long line for individuals looking for last-chance spots at South Africa's public universities serves to highlight the importance of opening access to higher education. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a basic fundamental human right to access higher education based on merit. Everyone deserves the chance to pursue educational opportunity if they are motivated and interested in attaining it. There is no reason for such tragedies occurring as seen in South Africa -- as the solution already exists to educate the masses denied their right to education, and it can be found in online education.

Online education can be provided at significantly less expense than traditional education and utilizing it can mean the difference for millions of individuals to successfully attain education or remain shut out of education, as is the status quo. Some people may still be prejudiced against on line universities and feel that online education is not of good enough quality. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Education's 2010 Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning, students who study online perform even modestly "better than those receiving face-to-face instruction." Additionally, the millions of students studying online at US universities nowadays serve the best evidence of its viability. Indeed, online education provides quality education, and definitively can be used to solve many issues facing young adults in the attainment of higher education. The viable solution to conquering inequalities in educational attainment is available at everyone's fingertips.

Today's amalgamation of dropping technology costs and Open Educational Resources have allowed quality educational delivery to cost a fraction of traditional brick and mortar institutions. Adding in the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning, coupled with open-source technology and the full use of Open Educational Resources, cumulates in a tuition-free quality education for all. University of the People (UoPeople; www.UoPeople.org) -- the tuition-free, non-profit, online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally, which I founded -- employs an online solution for the masses. UoPeople was specifically designed to provide access to collegiate studies for individuals, despite any financial, geographic or societal constraints they may face. The over 90% satisfaction rate among students, more than 550,000 Facebook fans, and the encouragement and active participation of top academics around the world highlight the global support for University of the People. Furthermore, partnerships with Yale University for research, New York University for accepting students and Hewlett-Packard for internships demonstrate growing acceptability in the academic and business spheres for the initiative to democratize higher education.

However, University of the People is not only servicing all those currently constrained from attaining higher education, but possibly even more important, it is building a model for governments and universities worldwide to emulate in order to educate even greater numbers of individuals in need. South Africa take heed -- young adults in need of education can be serviced with the delivery of quality education at low-cost. There is no need for the tragic stampeding death of a prospective student's mother while desperately trying to get last remaining spots at public universities. There is no need for mile-long lines for placement at all, or the estimated more than 180,000 left out of higher education in South Africa this year to remain shut out. There is a solution that is replicable and scalable.