Finding talented disadvantaged youth from around the world can be a hard feat to accomplish for New York University, and other elite institutions, largely because of the situation most disadvantaged youth find themselves in. If you are living in a tent in Haiti, or in post-genocide Rwanda, you are trying to survive, and looking to education as the ticket to the future is difficult when your stomach is hungry and basic sanitation is an issue you face every day. And you know deep inside that the financial difficulties to attend are not just difficulties, but actual walls -- even if you get in, how will you afford tuition? Who will give you a loan? How will you find out who can give you grants to attend? Distractions are plentiful and roadblocks seem endless when you live in extreme poverty, lacking basic necessities such as running water that we in the western world take for granted. No matter how bright an individual is, obtaining a ticket to a decent job and worldwide exposure via education is a bleak prospect for the millions living in such conditions around the world -- until now.
New York University recently announced (as reported in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post) a collaborative relationship with the tuition-free, non-profit, University of the People (UoPeople) -- and in doing so, publicly verified their belief, shared by UoPeople, that being poor doesn't negate someone's talent and motivation. For many students, UoPeople is the only opportunity they have to begin higher education -- lacking resources and facing economic hardship, there is no other place they can turn to. After the initial gate of affordability is opened by UoPeople's tuition-free programs, each student can carve a new future and demonstrate individual talent. The agreement between the two universities is to identify bright UoPeople students eligible for transfer to NYU Abu Dhabi. In keeping with affordability, the agreement also addresses NYU Abu Dhabi's generous scholarships to be provided to the students chosen, so that those who do continue onto NYU Abu Dhabi can actually afford to do so.
New York University made a bold move with this announcement, which serves to endorse the growing rejection of under-representation that we are seeing increasingly addressed in media coverage on education. Diversity of nationality, religion, gender and economic background slowly, but surely, will become more common in institutions of higher learning, as the benefits that come from a diverse student body, becomes more clear. NYU is a pioneer in its efforts to aggressively recruit low-income, globally disadvantaged youth. Possibly, and hopefully, this will serve as a model for other institutions.
For disadvantaged youth worldwide, the agreement between NYU and UoPeople shows that opportunity is available to them and that their effort and motivation hold the ability to lead them to one of the world's best universities.