Over the past decade, brick-and-mortar outposts have popped up across the U.S. to offer students who take online college courses a physical space to study and interact. In Denver, there’s a suite in an office complex. In Austin, there’s an airy hall that resembles a co-working facility. In Philadelphia, there’s room in a modern high-rise.
Calling themselves “hybrid colleges,” these mini campus centers have set big goals for themselves, such as bringing college within reach for people historically left out of higher education.
Now, more than a dozen of these nonprofits are strengthening their bonds and committing to shared goals by creating the Hybrid College Network.
“The network is incredibly collaborative. They’re proud of the model because it is serving students really well,” says Lauren Trent, CEO of AdvanceEDU in Colorado, which launched in 2020. “There is mutual interest in learning from each other, when the models are different, what is driving student success?”
Hybrid college programs are a symbiosis between online higher ed institutions and nonprofits that provide place-based support systems. Students pay tuition to the colleges, which then share revenue with the nonprofits, which use the funds to pay for services that students access in person, including coaching, career advising and assistance with basic needs, such as meals and child care.
The website for the Hybrid College Network bills the model as “more effective than community colleges, more efficient than 4-year colleges, and more affordable than online colleges,” citing the low tuition rates of its member programs, and the high persistence rates of the students those programs serve. The concept is designed to improve college access and degree completion, especially for people who pursue higher education part-time—a group that historically has had low graduation rates. The strategy is somewhat similar to one that some online colleges have tried themselves by planting their own hybrid campus locations.