A New York University dean has a new project to try to bring inexpensive education to struggling people eager for education. Sociologist Dalton Conley will devote his sabbatical year to expanding the University of the People, a free, international education institution.

According to an article by Peter Monaghan in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Dalton Conley’s research on how social and economic opportunities are distributed has prompted him to get involved in bringing college-level teaching to students who need an education that costs next to nothing. That reasoning led Mr. Conley, a prominent sociologist, to accept the post of dean of arts and sciences at the online University of the People, which has access as its motivating rationale.

The international, tuition-free, nonprofit institution, founded in 2009, is a pioneering effort in e-learning and peer-to-peer learning. Using open-source technology and coursework provided gratis by well-regarded institutions, it offers two- and four-year degree programs in business administration and computer science. It has formed partnerships with Yale University, New York University, and Hewlett-Packard, and to date has enrolled 1,400 students from 130 countries.

NYU is apparently willing to let Conley work at the online venture. NYU’s president, John Sexton, is apparently one academic administer advising the new university.

“Spreading education to populations that currently don’t have access to it might do some good in the world,” Monaghan said to Monaghan.

This is an impressive gesture, and it’s very generous of NYU to allow Conley to devote his time to work on the project. It’s worth pointing out, however, that “spreading education to populations that currently don’t have access to it” for cheap, used to be what NYU itself did. Before the 1950s it was an inexpensive school easily accessed by working adults. It was the school’s move up market that made the school inaccessible to “populations that currently don’t have access to it” in New York City.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer