NEW YORK —
It’s not every day that a professional athlete goes back to school.
World champion and Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has 19 medals to her name, but one accolade was out of her reach, until now.
Starting this month, the most decorated American gymnast of all time will be pursuing a college degree.
Before the Rio Summer Games in 2016, Biles committed to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). But her demanding schedule made studying full time next to impossible.
WATCH: Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles Takes On New Role: College Student
The University of the People, a nonprofit, tuition-free online university, seems to be a better fit. Biles has become a global ambassador for the 9-year-old institution and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
“I think it’s a good time to start, so that you don’t wait too-too long to start. So that you won’t want to go back,” Biles told VOA News. “I could have picked any time, but this was the perfect opportunity.”
The accredited online university also offers an MBA (master’s of business administration) degree, as well as undergraduate degrees in computer science and health science.
Its tuition-free classification is reliant on private and public donations. More than 6,000 administrators and educators from the likes of Yale University, New York University and the University of California Berkeley volunteer their time and expertise. Class materials are open source, specifically, Open Educational Resources (OER) that live in the public domain and are licensed for public use.
Students do pay assessment fees of $100 per exam. The university estimates an associate degree costs $2,060, while a bachelor’s degree is approximately $4,060.
Biles has established a scholarship fund in her name, to help incoming students with these costs. The fund targets those who have been in foster care, like Biles herself.
“A lot of them age out of the system and they don’t feel like they have the same opportunity as other kids,” Biles said.
The school’s unconventional approach is perfect for its latest student, whose journey thus far has been anything but ordinary.
“I haven’t had a traditional school experience for a while, actually going into a classroom and sitting down,” said Biles, who left public school to be homeschooled during her high school years.
“The traditional way won’t work for me and I understand that. So it’s OK ... online it is,” Biles said, laughing.
Perhaps it’s a bid for a bit of normalcy, after the recent sex abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar rocked the gymnastics world. Biles’ name was one of the biggest on the list of victims. But she’s ready to move on.
“I didn’t want the headlines, once I go out and compete again, to be, you know, that be the title of me, rather than what I have to offer for this sport,” Biles said.
Her dreams also go beyond gymnastics, into the corporate world.
“I’ve always wanted to work in the business industry,” Biles said. “My mom’s always worked in business and my brothers, too, and they’ve been very good at what they’ve done so hopefully I will, too.”
Biles said the same drive that shaped her athletic career will help her academic pursuits.
“I feel like I’ve always been dedicated, and I never stopped until I got what I wanted. So being driven helps,” Biles said.