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3 ways to choose a hybrid degree program

e-learning computer with diploma

There's a new-ish kind of degree program out there.

In an article for The Boston Globe, Joan Axelrod-Contrada described these programs, which are designed for students who want the flexibility of an online degree but are wary of doing a degree entirely through distance learning. "Called 'hybrid,' 'blended,' or 'low-residency,' these programs aim to offer the best of both worlds: the flexibility of Internet learning with the face-to-face interaction of the college campus," she wrote. Most of the time, hybrid students work on schoolwork at home, spending a small portion of the year in classes on campus.

Quite perfect for many, right? But before you get too giddy, consider these three factors when choosing an online college.

1. Assess if the campus requirement is too much — or not enough

How much time students spend on the campus itself for hybrid degree programs can vary wildly.

"Adults come together from near and far for networking and intensive learning during short-term residencies that range from one weekend a month to twice-a-year visits of two weeks," Axelrod-Contrada wrote. "Students sometimes stay in college dorms, sometimes in hotels."

Can you afford to be away from home or certain responsibilities for that amount of time? Keep in mind: When you're on campus, it could be an all-day commitment for the short period you're there. The upside is, of course, that you can often knock out a few credits in just a couple of weeks. Biola University in Los Angeles, in its hybrid master's degree program in Christian apologetics, for example, has students aiming to complete 10 credits in each two-week residency.

2. Make sure you like the online course format

How a college structures the online component of its hybrid degree programs has the potential to greatly impact your learning and satisfaction, and they all seem to vary in that regard, too.

Take the hybrid courses at the University of Colorado-Denver, for example. According to the school's website, the online component of these courses include:

  • Case studies
  • Self-tests
  • Tutorials
  • Online group projects

Compare that to the online component of the two hybrid degree programs at Pacifica Graduate Institute. According to its website, "While working from home, students are expected to participate in weekly online instructional activities which include: reading, research, posting and responding to interactive discussions with classmates and faculty, listening to audio files, watching videos, and completing regular written assignments."

As you can see, each program is different. So if you prefer one with more interaction between students and professors or you'd rather just have readings or videos to ingest, check out the details carefully before you choose among the programs. You need to decide what learning style you want the most and then find a hybrid degree program that aligns closest with that.

3. Weigh the costs

For most students, cost matters.

Don't just assume that because hybrid degree programs are often mostly online they'll be cheaper. They might be, but they might not be. "Blended programs generally cost about the same as traditional courses," Axelrod-Contrada wrote. As you're looking for the right hybrid degree program, compare costs between the two.

For example, if you're doing a low-residency Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, you might see the tuition at Converse University's program at about $12,000 a year and the tuition at Warren Wilson College's program at about $18,000 a year. When faced with pretty big financial differences like this, it doesn't necessarily mean the cheaper option is better or the more expensive option is the more academically rigorous of the two. You need to research to see which program fits you better, what financial aid options might exist and if you're able to pay. You must ask yourself: Is the cost worth it for what the program offers and, more important, where the program can take me?

For working professionals and parents, hybrid degree programs might seem almost too good to be true, with their flexible online courses and engaging campus courses. But just like any other degree program, you have to make sure you like the class format, can pay the costs and can commit to the workload before enrolling.

Sources:

"Low-residency programs blend online, campus classes," Joan Axelrod-Contrada, The Boston Globe, May 19, 2013,
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/05/18/hybrid-degree-programs-can-provide-best-both-worlds/C4HzPctO25DshB2BIQUqyK/story.html

The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College: Tuition & Financial Aid, Warren Wilson College,
http://www.wwcmfa.org/program-overview/financial-aid/

Master of Arts Degree in Christian Apologetics: Distance Learning, Biola University,
http://www.biola.edu/academics/sas/apologetics/maca/distance/

Residential Learning with an Online Component, Pacifica Graduate Institute,
http://www.pacifica.edu/Hybrid_Programs.aspx

CU Online Courses & Degress: Hybrid Course Format, University of Colorado-Denver,
http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/CUOnline/OnlineCourses/CourseOverview/Pages/HybridCourses.aspx

Converse College MFA Low Residency: Tuition and Fees, Converse College,
http://www.converse.edu/academics/school-education-and-graduate-studies/graduate-programs/graduate-programs-other-fields/-10