When University of the People founder Shai Reshef welcomed 16 Haitian students to their first day of class last Thursday, he told them that life might prevent some of them–as it does students in every part of the world–from completing their degrees at the free, online university.

“They looked at me and said, you just don’t understand,” Reshef says. “We cannot drop out. We have to finish it. That’s our lives. It’s like dying if we don’t graduate.”

Haitians have good reason for thinking of education a bit differently than much of the rest of the world. In a country where just over fifty percent of the population meets the CIA World Factbook’s definition of 87% of the country’s institutions of higher learning, it became even more precious. While reconstructing the destroyed universities is a long-term task, University of the People is hoping to give Haitian students a way to continue their educations before it’s completed, reports Mashable. By opening a center where students can take advantage of the scarce electricity, computers, and Internet connection required to enroll in the University of the People’s free online courses, the organization hopes to not only ease Haiti’s current woes, but also help build its future…

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staff and wire services reports