If popularity is a measure of success, the innovative Kepler undergraduate degree program based in Kigali, Rwanda, is experiencing unprecedented success this year. Applications for entry into the highly competitive program rose to well over 6,500, more than twice the number received in 2014, and included applicants from nearby Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda. The program currently has room to accept only 150 applicants out of the final pool of 1,200. Kepler has only been around since 2013, but it has already garnered widespread praise for its approach to putting internationally accredited higher education within reach of under-resourced young adults.
Kepler is a spin-off of the nonprofit organization Generation Rwanda, which more than a decade ago initiated efforts to provide scholarship funding for young people orphaned by wars and disease. In turning its focus to providing access to high-quality college education, Generation Rwanda aims to help individual students, as well as the entire country and region, become more self-sufficient.
Students participate in massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered free through leading universities. After viewing the online material, students meet face-to-face with instructors and career counselors to refine their knowledge, and gain practical experience through internships with partner companies. Kepler students earn their degrees, which are fully accredited through the United States-based College for America, upon proving their competency in the undergraduate business curriculum. This method of obtaining a degree replaces the traditional practice in much of the world of simply awarding a degree based on earning passing grades in a set of classes over time, regardless of a student’s capacity to acquire knowledge more quickly.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has offered Kepler the chance to recruit students among the population of the Rwandan refugee camps, which are currently the residence of nearly 80,000 people displaced by regional violence and unable to return home. Many young adults have lived in these camps all their lives, unable to access higher education.
Kepler’s 2015 acceptance rate of around 2 percent is lower than that of Harvard, but not by choice. The program would like to offer the same opportunity to all students who qualify, and is only constrained by its current capacity to deliver services. Increased donor participation can make an enormous difference in the lives of deserving young people throughout southern Africa.