Fascinating article by Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company about a unique attempt to leverage MOOCs

Kepler’s Rwandan University Costs Only $1,000

Kepler wants to blend online and on-the-ground learning to get Rwandans the education they deserve.
By: Anya Kamenetz
This September, Kepler, a university in Rwanda unlike any other in the world, is opening its doors. It combines MOOCs (free online courses from top U.S. and European universities) with intensive seminar-style learning, coaching, and on-the-ground advising to create an ultra-low-cost degree accredited by an American university.

Kepler’s goals are not modest. “I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that we could be one of the country’s best universities from Day 1,” says cofounder Alex Hague. “The dream is we want basically to provide a higher education experience that’s internationally competitive, for a cost that’s radically less than the regional competition.”

Bending Old And New
Although MOOCs are brand-new, Kepler’s roots are not. In Rwanda, young people can get a “certificate of vulnerability,” an official government recognition that their lives are harder than most, due to poverty and losing family members to the 1990s genocide. For the past nine years, NGO Generation Rwanda has been putting groups of 20 or 30 of the brightest of these vulnerable young people through local universities.

The organization gradually developed a full complement of support services–counseling, health care, and “soft skills” like resume prep–to ensure their success. Ninety-eight percent of participants have ultimately graduated, and 98% are also employed.

But there were two problems, from Generation Rwanda’s point of view. One is that this model did not scale. “Two hundred graduates in nine years is amazing, but there’s this looming crisis, a huge youth bubble in Africa,” Hague says. “Only 7% of the population can pursue any kind of formal higher education now, and tens of millions of people will need it in the coming decades.” Read more.