What is a Hybrid MBA Program?

Blended master of business administration (MBA) degrees are increasingly attractive to prospective students. Also known as hybrid degrees, these programs blend on-campus sessions with online education and offer unique advantages to students.

Early on, experts believed that online education would completely upend academia. Students would prefer to do all of their learning on a computer and would no longer be committed to attending universities near their homes. In addition, experts believed that distance would become irrelevant when students apply to schools.

Furthermore, when it came to business schools, the consensus was that MBA applicants would choose a school or program based on rankings regardless of how far the physical campus was from where they lived. Online learning offered the opportunity for students to attend the best schools in the country without leaving their city or town of residence. If students could now take classes and complete coursework from anywhere, why would they not seek a degree from the most prestigious, nationally-ranked school?

In 2023, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) released its annual Prospective Students Survey. It reported that preference for online MBA programs remained steady from the 2019 figures. The demographics for online MBA program applicants include women, first-generation, millennial, and North American candidates. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, these enrollment figures have changed dramatically in recent years.

In parallel, Poets & Quants interviewed Tim Westerbeck, the founder of the business school consulting firm Eduvantis. He predicted that interest in the hybrid delivery of MBA programs would be the next big trend in MBA education.

“One of the common things we hear about purely online experience is that the full value of that experience is not readily achieved,” Westerbeck told Poets & Quants. “People know that a campus-based environment is kind of the center of activities, like clubs, the social and cultural aspects of the educational experiences.”

In other words, while online education offers exceptional benefits for many students, the value of a degree is not only quantifiable through academic learning. The personal interaction involved in going to school on-campus is not to be ignored. It has been a cornerstone of education for centuries, and it is an element that students value and look for in a program.

This is how the hybrid MBA program was born. According to 2018 data from the GMAC, the most significant change in professional education over the last ten years is the development of effective online and distance-learning tools. Many universities and colleges have learned that most business school applicants expect and prefer a blended approach to the traditional classroom experience, which combines online content and in-person learning.

Interestingly enough, 71 percent of millennials prefer more in-person coursework compared to 61 percent of Generation X students. GMAC explains that the biggest challenge for schools is finding the best balance between online and in-person learning according to their students’ interests.

Of course, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 shifted all face-to-face classes to fully online learning environments. As of March 2022, most institutions have expanded their offerings to include hybrid and limited face-to-face learning as well as online learning.

In March 2021, MBA.com, a partner site of GMAC, reported that women were 8 percent more likely than men to want to complete a hybrid degree online and in-person. This reflects the effects of the “shecession,” or the increased number of women leaving their paid jobs to take on unpaid domestic work at home brought on by necessary sheltering-in-place requirements.

The Race for Hybrid Programs

The early consensus that education would move completely online was wrong, and by 2014, universities caught onto students’ interest in blended in-person and online education. As a result, the race was on among business schools to add blended in-person learning options to their online MBA programs.

The oldest blended MBA program is based in Europe. The IE Business School has offered online virtual education combined with face-to-face sessions at its Madrid campus for 20 years.

The first blended program offered in the U.S. was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In late 2012, UCLA inaugurated the school’s first hybrid MBA option, called FEMBA Flex, as part of the Anderson School’s fully employed MBA (FEMBA) program, which is a flexible part-time on-campus program available to students who want to continue working while earning their degree. The FEMBA Flex track is mostly online, with four two-day weekend campus visits per quarter.

The third school to offer a hybrid program was Carnegie Mellon University. In 2013, the Tepper School of Business started its online hybrid MBA program, an innovative feature of which involves “access weekends” every eight weeks where students work face-to-face with classmates, faculty, and alumni at Tepper’s various campuses around the country, including Pittsburgh, the Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Is There a Difference Between Hybrid and Blended?

The words “hybrid” and “blended” are often used interchangeably when referring to an online and in-person program. Students typically complete most coursework online, but the program also includes some required face-to-face instructional activities like lectures, discussions, or seminars. These may also include social events scheduled for networking purposes since networking among faculty, classmates, and alumni are essential for all face-to-face and blended program components.

Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business demonstrates a model for a great blended program. Its format combines a cutting-edge academic software platform with bi-monthly in-person weekends. Another example of a blended program offering less frequent in-person sessions is the hybrid MBA program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. UW’s program is 95 percent online, requiring three trips to Foster’s campus each year, with each trip lasting three to five days.

Currently, the big news in graduate management education is the blended online program at the University of Michigan—the first hybrid offering by a top ten-ranked MBA program—which was introduced in fall 2019. The new program will be mostly delivered online through self-guided study and live online lectures, with several on-campus residencies focused on leadership, business transformation, and innovation.

How Do Immersions and Residencies Relate to Blended Programs?

Some schools call their face-to-face components “immersions” or “residencies.” However, regardless of their duration, the required on-campus element of an online MBA program is a common industry standard, especially at nationally-ranked business schools.

Residencies and immersions indeed constitute one possible embodiment of a blended program. However, the frequency, length, and type of an on-campus component vary according to school. For example, many blended programs schedule regular in-person weekends, ranging from once a semester to once a week. The hybrid MBA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill requires students to complete two global immersions during the program. Students can choose between an on-campus, domestic, or international immersion where they get the chance to travel to major business centers and learn from professors and influential business leaders.

For more about residencies and immersions, see our guide “Do Online MBA Programs Require Residency or Campus Visitation?” This guide profiles the on-campus requirements at UNC, Maryland, Pepperdine, Syracuse, and American University.

The Advantages of Blended Online MBA Programs

We mentioned earlier one of the primary driving forces of hybrid programs: students’ combined desire for on-campus education and their need for flexible learning. In this section, we go into further detail about the advantages of a blended program.

On-Campus Job Placement and Career Support

One of the main reasons why students pursue an MBA, regardless of its format, is to advance their careers. For this reason, one of the most compelling benefits of blended online programs involves the job placement and career support benefits available through in-person and on-campus resources. Consider these remarks by one commentator in Poets & Quants:

I believe the only reason demand for on-campus education hasn’t dried up is recruiting. People are still applying and giving up two years of earnings to go to campus because that’s where the employers they hope to work for are recruiting from. As soon as students at Kelly Direct or MBA@UNC receive truly the same shot as their full-time on-campus counterparts at Google, Goldman, McKinsey, etc., expect demand for the full-time programs to wither.

A school’s job placement and career services center can be essential to securing a great job, and online students who do not visit campus may lose out on this benefit. For example, the Masters Career Center at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business provides one-on-one career counseling, corporate presentations, mock interviews, and on-campus recruiting.

Cindy McCauley, the executive director of Tepper’s online master’s programs, told TopMBA News that Tepper students “have the chance to really feel like they are part of the campus with access to career, leadership, and other resources that might be harder to utilize if the program didn’t have an in-person component.”

Although some recruiters offer online interviews, most still insist on face-to-face interviews before hiring graduating MBAs. For that reason, meeting with recruiters in-person amounts to a prime benefit of a blended MBA program.

Networking With Students and Faculty

Networking with classmates and faculty can help with advancement throughout one’s career by providing encouragement, support, and career opportunities; for many, this network is the single most valuable feature of an MBA.

Moreover, in the more reputable hybrid programs, students are seasoned professionals with diverse and impressive backgrounds from an array of different industries. Many classmates in these programs have already reached mid-level or senior positions. Students with real-world experience can further enrich classroom discussions with relevant and interesting contributions. In these programs, students can learn as much from classmates as they learn from faculty.

Business schools intend for their hybrid programs to create stronger bonds between students as well as with faculty and alumni than those created in their strictly online programs. The in-person component where students put a face to the name of the people they interact with online is crucial.

McCauley emphasizes that blended MBA programs like Tepper’s supply the networking opportunities that some say are missing from a purely online MBA. At Tepper, students begin every course in person, providing a stronger connection at the start on which students can build throughout the program. This is true for peer-to-peer connection as well, explains McCauley to TopMBA News:

When students have the opportunity to get together in person, they have a much greater ability to connect with their peers. In our online hybrid MBA program, they spend nearly three days together every six weeks taking classes, participating in workshops, co-curricular activities and socializing. Our students become very close and build a strong network that will last a lifetime.

In a recent Poets & Quants survey, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business consistently received outstanding marks from alumni.

Opportunities to Apply Lessons Immediately

As with all online MBA programs, blended programs enable students to apply what they learn and test classroom theories on-the-job without delay. Phillip Kim is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and faculty director of the school’s blended learning MBA. He explains that the program’s value proposition to TopMBA News is the opportunity to work and learn at the same time:

Rather than having to take time off work to pursue an MBA full-time or attend classes during the evening or weekends, the online format offers another pathway. Our students tell us how much they value taking what they learn this week and putting it to use immediately at work. The online format facilitates this rapid learning and application.

Example Hybrid MBA Programs

Here are a few examples of top-ranked schools offering blended MBA programs:

The following schools provide executive programs similar to a hybrid option:

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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