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Colleges Aren’t Keeping Up With Student Demand for Hybrid Programs, Survey Suggests

Students want hybrid programs that blend online and face-to-face experiences. But colleges don’t seem to be providing enough of them to meet the demand.

That’s one message that emerges from the results of a national survey of more than 20,000 current and prospective adult students that were just released by Eduventures, a consulting firm.

The finding is notable because blended education has been hot lately. In 2009, the U.S. Education Department released a report praising it. And this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pouring millions into supporting it.

But the Eduventures survey found a gap between supply and demand: 19 percent of respondents said they were enrolled in blended programs, while 33 percent of prospective students listed that format as their preference.

The report on the survey, which is not available free online, questions whether some students are being “forced” into studying entirely online because of a lack of hybrid programs.

“Schools have jumped on the online bandwagon, and students end up with this rather unnuanced choice between more-or-less wholly on ground and more-or-less wholly online, when many of them actually want something that’s a more nuanced combination of the two,” says Richard Garrett, a managing director at Eduventures.

Mr. Garrett argues that offering that nuanced combination makes sense because of broader trends in online education. As wholly Web-based learning grows more popular, providing it becomes riskier for lesser-known nonprofit colleges. That’s because it pushes them into a highly competitive national market. Increasingly, he says, the opportunities to draw in online students will be local.

“There’s a strong rationale for many nonprofit schools that lack national brands to use a form of hybrid to get the best of both worlds—to play to consumer interest in online but tack onto it some kind of high-value, on-ground, institution-specific, face-to-face component that allows them to differentiate in an otherwise very commoditized market,” he says.

That isn’t a new idea. Some universities have been working on it for years, in part through a program that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation created to help colleges attract local students online.

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