The OUI, together with the Peamei Tikvah Fund and the Alumni Association of the IDF General Headquarters Commando Unit, launched Project Access: Ofakim, in 2014. The initiative facilitated access to higher education for residents of this development town in Israel's southern periphery by opening an OUI study center in the city. This was coupled with scholarships, individual mentoring, the use of learning technologies, and supervision by OUI staff and alumni of the elite General Headquarters Commando.
In partnership with Jewish Federations of North America, the OUI proposes exploring replication of this successful model in the North American Federations' Partnership Communities in Israel.
In the pilot program, new students registering for at least three courses were automatically entitled to scholarships for the first two. Scholarships have since been awarded on the basis of financial need and/or academic excellence.
Sofia Rachmilov, 21, resides in Ofakim, and works at a local school. When the structured BA in Education and Teaching Methods was launched two years ago, she enrolled, on the advice of her boss. She knew that the convenience of location, combined with the scholarship, were too attractive to turn down. Still, at first she perceived it as a compromise of her "academic dream." Once it all began, however, reality took over. If she had thought she would miss out on the student experience, she quickly discovered otherwise. "I feel camaraderie with the other students," she says, as she praises the staff. “Their prompt responsiveness to every inquiry and their overall concern in general is amazing – and that raises the motivation to study.”.
Rachmilov emphasizes how much the tutors contribute to the learning experience. All around her, says Rachmilov, she sees people fulfilling themselves and realizing their potential. Some of her fellow students would never have considered higher education were it not for this unique program. Rachmilov proudly reports that she was granted permission to enroll in more classes than required by the Ofakim project next semester so that she can make faster progress and complete her degree more quickly.