Why Simone Biles Chose An Online College Over UCLA

“I know what it means to rise out of challenging circumstances and be given an opportunity,” says Simone Biles on being a student at University of the People (UoPeople).

For my latest Forbes article, I had a chance to speak with Biles and other education leaders about online education and when it's the right choice. Simone Biles chose University of the People because the flexible format enabled her to continue with her gynmastics schedule. In addition, Simone Biles is very much a believer in the open access (free) education that University of the People provides. 

I also covered the Smartly MBA Program, which was founded by former Rosetta Stone CEO Tom Adams. Smartly emphasizes a user-driven, concise and fun learning experience.

Students of Smartly’s free MBA include Forbes Under 30 winners Kaitlyn Yang and Mary Iafelice, both of whom are entrepreneurs. Founder of Alpha Studios, an LA-based post production company, Yang chose Smartly to advance her business knowledge and to fulfill her parents dreams of getting a graduate degree. But she wasn’t in a position to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and take time off from work. A graduate of USC’s prestigious film animation program, she was brand conscious, but she chose Smartly because “the namesake and the degree itself doesn't matter as much as what I'm actually getting out of it.” Yang finished her MBA in 9 months, using her smartphone on film shoot breaks to complete the degree.

Iafelice is Founder of humble ventures, a DC-based nonprofit that helps underserved
communities access venture capital. A graduate of the College of Holy Cross and Harvard’s HBX Core Program, Iafelice had been casually looking for an MBA program but ruled it out for similar reasons as Yang: money and time. But a chance meeting with Adams made her rethink her plans, and she decided to forge ahead and enroll. Iafelice, an “early adopter” of new technologies, believes that Smartly is the wave of the future “because of the speed at which knowledge is transferred.” She says that the language, look and feel of the app has the “right tone” for millennials and that its lessons can be applied immediately.

Altogether, providers like UoPeople and Pedago (founder of Smartly) see both a social and market opportunity in offering free online degrees. As more millennials enroll in MBA (and undergraduate) programs, online learning providers have potential to completely transform the higher education marketplace. Industry also has an opportunity to transform free higher education through funding
MBA programs with the company hiring fees, as Square and Capital One have done with the Smartly MBA.

Perhaps most importantly, both UoPeople and Pedago have recognized the opportunity to make higher education more accessible and affordable for both undergraduates and MBAs.

Who will be next to jump on board as a student, entrepreneur, or industry partner?