Let us explain the real story behind the Israeli ✡️ diploma mill that claims to be an "American university".
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This website is a comprehensive review as well as a list of FAQ on the University of the People (www.uopeople.edu), an online for-profit Israeli diploma mill that bills itself as a non-profit American university in California. Just like any diploma mill, if you go to their alleged current address "595 E. Colorado Boulevard. Suite 623 Pasadena, CA 91101, USA" you won't see any "universities"; you will find a hidden PO box in a shared office instead, which they rent from loopnet.com/Listing/595-E-Colorado-Blvd-Pasadena-CA/4109015/ and which you can rent yourself — yes, you can get UoPeople's address too. The same goes for the two different previous PO boxes used by UoPeople. In other words, you can't visit this "university", simply because it doesn't exist — unless you consider a $80 PO box, managed by a person with a computer in Israel as a university — see also the map in the Contact section. And if you try to phone them, things don't get better: it is just a dummy voicemail service running on a virtual phone number, and they have no real US landlines (or mobile phone lines) whatsoever.
However, University of the People claims not to be a diploma mill because "we do not give credit for relevant life experience". This explanation is trivial, because more than 95% of UoPeople.edu customers are students who don't have any "relevant life experience", so there is no need to take experience into consideration: it would even be counterproductive, because it would highlight their inexperience. Besides, "life experiences" are optional: a diploma mill may well only sell degrees for a fee — usually a few thousand dollars — which is exactly what University of the People does. Considering that UoPeople.edu claims to have more than 100,000 paying students, it is plausible that University of the People is the biggest diploma mill in the world — though UoPeople's numbers should always be taken with a pinch of salt because they can't be verified by anyone and therefore they may well be invented.
UPDATED: see also the comprehensive list of countries where UoPeople is accredited.
Many people from Africa and Asia send a fake high school diploma and get admitted, as long as they start paying: the first fee is $60, which is actually a lot of money in several developing countries, and the following ones are $120 each; the fees are the real admission requirements. University of the People claims this is not tuition but "administrative fees" — or occasionally "assessment fees" even if there is nothing to assess. Besides, you don't even have to understand English. It goes without saying that you can send a fake diploma from any country, as long as it has a nice fake stamp with a fake signature on it. This is why the title of this section is "100% or more": not only does UoPeople accept paying students having some kind of high school diploma, but it also accept paying students without a real high school diploma, thus exceeding the 100% threshold.
Just like any diploma mill, University of the People has no professors, no real instructors, no video courses and no original study material. The most frequently recommended sources are Wikipedia pages that may contain mistakes, or PDF files downloaded from various colleges' websites without asking permission from the authors and/or the owners. Those PDF files could also have mistakes or even be technically corrupt, but UoPeople doesn't care.
We logged on to the "platform" and recorded a video. This is what you find in the members-only area of uopeople.edu: basically a few broken PDFs downloaded from random websites, an underpaid "volunteer instructor", some cheating students, some unidentified weirdos and some non-English-speaking African boys who are supposed to assess your homework in English through the highly controversial UoPeople's peer-assessment mechanism. Enjoy!
Anyway, this alleged study material is irrelevant for the purpose of the final exam, which is a childproof online multiple choice test. The test has the same questions as the weekly quizzes, which you can learn by heart and take infinitely — by clicking at random too — until you get the best score.
The public website lists high-sounding names from all over the world, but none of them actually teach at University of the People. Some of them are also retired. Basically, the webmaster has been authorized to publish their resume, which is also a great way to cheat Google and other search engines: whenever you look up the name of one those professors, you come across UoPeople's website — usually in the first result page — which could suggest that those people teach there. Too bad if you enroll at University of the People, you will find none of them. Actually, you will find no professors at all.
On the other hand, the webmaster has not been authorized to publish other organizations' logos, such as the United Nations, WASC (huge logo of an accrediting body) or Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Deloitte, IBM, you name it. In his opinion, all these unauthorized logos make the website "more professional" and help the organization sell more "degrees"; in our opinion, they help the website look more ridiculous instead, and deceptive. When UoPeople.edu was created, they claimed their alumni to work at Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other giants… but they couldn't have any alumni simply because the website had just been created. In fact, University of the People's bad reputation is embarrassing in a résumé, and some people started to omit this name due to the prevalent understandable discrimination from employers towards shady offshore diploma mills. Hundreds of thousands of students graduate from schools having a real accreditation and a great reputation instead; how could a "degree" issued by an offshore degree mill compete with them all?
One of UoPeople's ubiquitous advertising slogans is "The education revolution". On the whole, we totally agree: they claim to be an education institution, without any professors, without a real address or phone number, and only mooching stuff off other people or organizations — so they can make money online from Israel — which is a revolution for sure.
University of the People Education Ltd is the company that runs UoPeople.edu — not the other way around as claimed by UoPeople's owner Shai Reshef, who runs this for-profit scam. It is located in Tel Aviv and employs some Israeli people, although other underpaid people, misleadingly called volunteers, also work remotely off the books from other countries — Nigeria, India and other cheap labor countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. The company created a different dummy organization in the US, called University of the People (without Ltd), which managed to get non-profit status in the US, claiming that the Israeli company "offers online technical and administrative services" for the US empty box and is a subsidiary of the empty box itself. This scheme allows the alleged "non-profit American university" to transfer millions of dollars every year — collected from students — to the for-profit Israeli company, which consequently avoids US taxes. You don't need to be an expert in financial engineering to understand this simple tax-efficient way to hide an offshore company: you just have to read the mandatory IRS Form 990 that UoPeople, which claims to be nonprofit, must file every year. It is publicly available at irs.gov. However, they don't disclose that University of the People Education Ltd is the real puppet master behind the dummy virtual University of the People using a hidden PO box in California.
A Reddit reviewer located the University of the People diploma mill; predictably, UoPeople and its Reddit spammers started to threaten him — the same happened to us — but the attorney accomplished absolutely nothing… or at least UoPeople claims him to be an attorney: nobody knows if it is true, simply because he refuses to disclose and verify his alleged credentials. University of the People is now paying the same — fake? — attorney to whitewash Wikipedia and other online articles by deleting authoritative government sources mentioning Israel and threatening editors or webmasters. See also our Contact section for UoPeople's real address.
UoPeople.org used to be a tuition-free website — mind you, it was just a website, not a school — which could send you a diploma for free. You didn't have to pay anything: it was free because you had no real courses or exams. Needless to say, the diploma was completely useless, unless you wanted to use it as a novelty to hang on the wall. In our view, it was completely useless as a novelty too, because, honestly, "University of the People" was not the best name they could come up with — but that is another story. Anyway, since this thing was free, it could not be considered a scam yet, but don't confuse a simple website like that with MOOC websites such as Coursera: the latter offers thousands of real courses, whereas the former didn't have anything.
However, in 2014, the Israeli investor Shai Reshef, former owner of a for-profit e-learning company which he sold to the for-profit education giant Kaplan, managed to accredit his own UoPeople.org website through a dead, inactive, non-regional accreditation agency called DETC (Distance Education and Training Council), which came back to life out of the blue thanks to the money paid by Reshef himself to accredit UoPeople.org. From that moment on, Reshef claimed his empty website to be an accredited American university and changed its name into UoPeople.edu — he just bought a new web domain. The dead DETC was promptly renamed into DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission) too — by changing one letter: DE
TC→DEC — just to look less suspicious and to give the impression that it had nothing to do with the same dead accreditation agency. University of the People was born, hurray! Here comes the "university" that helps humanity, saves the world and eliminates poverty. Becoming a "non-profit website" — it was still free — was the icing on the cake.
However, the new UoPeople.edu ceased to be free pretty soon. Indeed, Reshef came up with a new — and deliberately ambiguous — advertising slogan: "tuition-free university". In other words, the new UoPeople.edu website claimed you didn't have to pay tuition — which is not surprising, because it was not even a school — but, unlike the old UoPeople.org website, it had new "administrative fees". More specifically, you must pay a few thousand dollars to get your UoPeople.edu diploma — which is what most international diploma mills charge — whereas the old UoPeople.org diploma used to be free. At the moment, the old UoPeople.org domain redirects to UoPeople.edu.
In any case, DEAC is not a regional accreditation body. In the USA, regional accreditation is the most reputable form of accreditation, which allows students and graduates to transfer credits from an institution to others, or to qualify for state licensure. This means that UoPeople.edu is not regionally accredited in America. Interestingly, even University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Grand Canyon University are regionally accredited; the fact that University of the People never managed to get regional accreditation speaks for itself, and the reason is very simple: unlike other universities (including online universities), which have real headquarters, real facilities, real professors and instructors etc., University of the People doesn't have anything, and almost no one considers it a real and legitimate school.
Bottom line: is it true that University of the People is accredited and tuition-free? Answer: yes roughly speaking it might be true, but it is just a big joke. See also the comprehensive list of countries where UoPeople is accredited.
Shortly after you find out that UoPeople is not "tuition-free" as ads and misleading articles claim, UoPeople reps aka ambassadors usually respond that "it's tuition-free but not completely free, and it's a bargain because it's low-cost". First of all, "low-cost" and "free" are two different concepts — funnily, they "offer an MBA" and a "bachelor/associate of science in business administration" but don't seem to understand the basics — therefore, if your business model is low-cost, your misleading ads should state "low-cost tuition", and not "tuition-free".
That being said, you are ripping us off anyway. It is like saying: "I could steal $50,000, but I'm a nice person so I'll only steal $4,000". Either way, you are stealing our money! The fact that you charge $4,000 instead of $50,000 is no excuse for engaging in fraudulent, aggressive and deceptive practices, let alone passing yourself off as a philanthropist who is helping the poor in Africa, Asia etc. Therefore, UoPeople is a fake charitable organization that represents one of the biggest scams in the nonprofit world.
Besides, since University of the People claims the money to be "administrative fees" and not tuition, students are not eligible for federal grants, aid or subsidized student loans.
«Last year I was hired by this online Israeli school. The salary was very low, and they had me sign a contract stating I must not talk to anyone about the contract itself — NDA, non disclosure agreement — which is weird for an alleged non-profit organization. Basically they have you work illegally and say you are a "volunteer" just to avoid legal actions and 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 full scholarships for Bachelors and MBAs… which I have never seen. A clear charity fraud!»
«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. Don't be fooled by UoPeople reps and ambassadors' fake reviews. If you still have the chance, avoid all these troubles and apply to a local community college, which is a real school, and 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.»
«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. This is racketeering, in addition there is tax evasion, now I only wonder how they launder money overseas.»
«UoPeople's "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 (or maybe they couldn't grade it, go figure). I feel kind of cheated because I did my grading as I was supposed to and I have yet to hear anything from the volunteer (❓) instructor to address it. She is ignoring my emails; it looks like she is on vacation or maybe she left the course. I also suspect the instructor's name is completely invented. I don't want to waste my time anymore and I'm thinking of just going back to the online school I was at, which at least was regionally accredited. And please don't tell me to pay another fee to leave your "school", for heaven's sake.»
Students should deeply research the schools they are sending money to, and supervisory authorities at the state, federal and international level could also do a much better job ensuring these schools are what they claim to be and delivering what they advertise. University of the People is a symptom of today's "education revolution" environment, warped by profit, advertising and an alarming paucity of basic skepticism that prevents people from realizing that nothing can be free (or "tuition-free") in this world — as a matter of fact, operating a real university is necessarily very expensive and complex — and the ads about a "free international accredited university" are too good to be true: red flag! In other words, you don't have to be a detective to discover the truth: you just have to use your head and beware of any organization that asks for money and you can't even visit in person.
Last but not least, if UoPeople.edu really wanted to help the poor and eliminate poverty, why does the organization refuse to build schools wherever there are none, or refuse to help poor students attend school in their own countries without telling them to pay thousands of dollars in "non-refundable administrative fees"? Selling ridiculous online degrees is completely useless, because the poorest people in the world still don't even have Internet access, and these "degrees" are not accredited in their African or Asian countries, nor are they recognized by WES for immigration purposes (see also our Accreditation, Arabic, and academic agenda sections). For example, thousands of African children are exploited as miners around the clock and can't go to school, but UoPeople refuses to do anything for them (apart from spreading some fake news). Last but not least, UoPeople keeps trying to censor these UoPeople FAQ, instead of solving its own alarming situation. University of the People also paid Forbes to censor the article, and the URL now redirects to forbes.com. UoPeople only wants clickbait sponsored articles! Luckily, the article has been republished here: edtechchronicle.com/universityofthepeople/
After the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, University of the People claimed to have built several computer centers for the earthquake victims. However, there are no UoPeople computer centers in Haiti. University of the People should be ashamed of spreading fake news like this, because many Haitians died during that terrible earthquake and this Israeli diploma mill has no respect for them. UoPeople PR office in Israel even paid nytimes.com to publish a fake story, with a fake (stolen) picture, about the alleged "UoPeople computer centers" 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. UoPeople also uploaded the same stolen pictures to Wikipedia, where they were deleted though.
The Israeli UoPeople.edu PR office uses international PR services such as einpresswire.com, prnewswire.com, cision.com, prweb.com and many more. UoPeople provides any kind of story — including fake news and clickbait articles — and those websites disseminate thousands of copies all over the Web. The more you pay, the more "important" the target websites are, which can include cnn.com, nytimes.com, forbes.com and so on. Therefore, when uninformed users see that article on Forbes' or New York Times' websites, they are like "Wow, wonderful news, and that's true because it's on forbes.com!" (or nytimes.com, or cnn.com etc.). Too bad the story and the interviews were completely invented by UoPeople.edu, and the journalist who put the name on the article doesn't even know what "UoPeople" is. This absurd situation has been going on for more than ten years by now. For example, the BBC published this headline: "University of the People: where students get free degrees". Fake news: UoPeople's "degrees" are not free, but cost thousands of dollars.
Moreover, University of the People's reps or ambassadors, who often disguise themselves as students, write hundreds of fake reviews on the Internet (Quora, Wikipedia, Medium, Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, TrustPilot, forums of various kinds etc.) saying that UoPeople is "wonderful", "a dream come true", "free", "the best university in the world" and other nonsense. They will also tell you to "contact me and ask me anything". That is to say: pure spam.
University of the People also forces people from Africa or Asia, who are not students and have never attended UoPeople, to write "reviews", especially on Facebook. These "reviews", which are sometimes recognizable from their poor English, are like "thank you free university", "great free American university", "I like the scholarships", "I'm honored to use UoPeople.edu" etc. with five stars or a thumbs up. These reviewers have no idea what they are talking about: they still have to pay the admission fee and have only watched some UoPeople.edu ads without actually logging in to the website. UoPeople mostly uses them to inflate the average rating on Facebook.
Sarah Vanunu used to be the PR manager of UoPeople.edu. She worked (and still works) in her town in Israel. Her main goal was to spread fake news about UoPeople all over the Internet and make sure nobody mentioned "Israel". Indeed, UoPeople is located in Israel but doesn't want you to talk about Israel, otherwise they would lose their Arab customers, who don't know they are sending money to an Israeli organization. To make a long story short, whenever you mentioned Israel — e.g. to say that UoPeople's owner Shai Reshef was born in Israel — you got an email from Sarah Vanunu asking you to delete/censor the word "Israel". We refused to remove Israel, so we received a threatening letter from a "UoPeople.edu attorney" stating that UoPeople would file a lawsuit against us. If we remember correctly, the name of this idiot was Asaf Wolff — we have no idea who he really is, honestly. Anyway, we ignored his threats and deleted his letters. A few years later, we found out that Sarah Vanunu got fed up with being a representative of a scam: she left University of the People and now works for a more honest company. Better late than never.
UoPeople claims to have developed a mobile app for iOS and Android to help poor people who can only access the Internet through slow connections. However, neither Google Play nor the Apple App Store has ever had this imaginary genuine app. Actually, UoPeople's 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: it uses a basic Moodle installation on shared hosting (they don't even have their own servers) which is not optimized for mobile devices, and is often slow on desktop computers too. Curiously, they issue "degrees" in computer science, but their website is clunky and they can't develop a decent mobile app.
On the other hand, Google Play has a few fake UoPeople closed-source apps, which are very dangerous because they can immediately steal your username and password while you log in to UoPeople.edu.
Actually, at UoPeople there is no such thing as a real graduation ceremony. Being a diploma mill, you will get your piece of paper by mail after you pay all the fees, that's it. However, UoPeople uploaded an amateur video showing a (very long) list of names who got the diploma by mail: therefore, we understand this is what UoPeople means by "beautiful graduation ceremony".
UoPeople.edu has been bombarding Wikipedia with ads, fake stories and fake pictures for a long time. Needless to say, most Wikipedia editors now consider UoPeople accounts a real nuisance, for example the paid users Weatherextremes and SimonBilesStan, who use Wikipedia just to spread fake news and sponsored articles about University of the people.
UoPeople's subreddit is full of UoPeople reps who never disclose their identity, and actually claim to be "happy students". Since Reddit is free of charge, these reps and spammers can bombard the subreddit with lots of fake reviews and fake news, that is to say unlimited deceptive advertising.
Scholarships and grants are another old part of UoPeople's aggressive and deceptive marketing campaigns. The ads state there are "lots of scholarships for everyone". It turns out you must pay a $60 non-refundable fee just to inquire about the alleged scholarships. What UoPeople.edu never says is that there are no scholarships for Master's degrees or Bachelor's degrees. Indeed, about 1% of the students get a discount on their total tuition: they will only pay two years, at best, instead of four. In other words, it is a pseudo-random discount used in advertising campaigns to attract new customers, which will all have to pay $60 upfront anyway — a great way to make money quickly. WASC-WSCUC confirm that UoPeople.edu does not distribute financial aid.
Moreover, the ads about the alleged scholarships contradict the claim that UoPeople is tuition-free, because if courses were free, there would be no need to spread clickbait articles about scholarships. This is how the scholarship-related scam works, step by step:
The regionally-unaccredited University of the People often claims to "partner" with well-known accredited universities. Too bad the alleged partnerships are a ripoff: some are invented, others are useless.
We cannot comment on the invented ones just because they do not exist, but we can comment on the oldest one: the partnership with University of Edinburgh. This is what UoPeople.edu claims:
We are honored to announce our collaboration with the University of Edinburgh which aims to support students uprooted by war, famine and natural disasters. Health Science graduates from UoPeople will be eligible to apply to the University of Edinburgh to a complete a bachelor's degree in Health, Science and Society.
First of all, a page that starts with "we are honored to announce" suggests that this is a recent statement; too bad it is the same story that dates back to 2017, but UoPeople.edu keeps removing or changing the date.
That being said, the partnership allows hypothetical UoPeople graduates to apply for undergraduate studies in Edinburgh. It should be noted that it is not guaranteed that University of Edinburgh will accept the students: a former UoPeople student simply can apply. But anyone can apply anyway, there is no need to be a UoPeople student! Besides, why on earth should we give thousands of dollars to University of the People for a useless diploma, if we can enroll in a real college right away without paying anyone? Bottom line: it is just a way for the University of the People to squeeze money out of people and waste their time.
Have you ever wondered how many "students" exploited this wonderful "partnership"? Ranald Leask, international PR & media manager at the University of Edinburgh, can give us the official answer: "Although we have yet to welcome any students through our partnership, this track remains open and we look forward to collaborating with University of the People in the future.", which is a polite way to say that 0 (zero) UoPeople students have been accepted at the University of Edinburgh.
Other alleged "partners" (Berkeley, NYU etc.) do not seem to use very different mechanisms: if admitted, you will have the opportunity to become an undergraduate student. But anyone can already become an undergraduate student anywhere (if admitted), so why waste time and money with UoPeople.edu? The only sensible answer is they are desperate for money and would do anything for it.
The latest claim is that "UoPeople has a new partnership with Harvard University": that is to say, UoPeople.edu is now trying to impress people by using Harvard's name and logo — although the Israeli diploma mill has nothing to do with Harvard, obviously. To show the new alleged partnership, UoPeople.edu links to this webpage: online.hbs.edu/organizations/collaborating-colleges/ However, that page does not say that Harvard University has formed a partnership with University of the People! That is just a list of institutions that asked the webmaster to add their logo, by clicking "Contact us". Any school can be added: it is not a partnership of any kind with Harvard University. What is more, people who attend Harvard Business School Online's courses are not even considered Harvard students. UoPeople.edu managed to have its logo added and now claims to be a "partner", but most likely Harvard University does not even know what University of the People is. As usual, it goes without saying that there is no need to be a "UoPeople student" to attend HBS online courses — which should not be confused with Harvard University anyway.
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.edu — 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 or ambassadors claim. The answer is no, the universities of Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Columbia and New York have nothing to do with UoPeople, and in most cases they have no idea what University of the People is. Unfortunately, UoPeople keeps disseminating old sponsored articles and press releases claiming the diploma mill "works with" Harvard, Berkeley, NYU and others. It is funny that UoPeople tends to only mention Ivy League institutions as well as MIT or Oxford (UK): all the other universities in the world are worthless. A pretty naive PR strategy.
This is another fake story that used to appear on UoPeople's sponsored articles, and still appears on their website. The reality is 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,
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 that the diploma mill has partnerships and affiliations with the UN, that it offers UN scholarships, and even uses the UN logos, without being legally authorized to do so, just to mislead people.
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