Top Progressive Colleges Online for Old Hippies and New Hipsters


Top Online Colleges for the Socially Progressive from Get Educated Awarded to Goddard College, Burlington College, Warren Wilson College, Antioch University, Union Institute & University, The New School

Attending college in search of truth, that’s like so 1960s. So old hippie. So not what today’s top online colleges are all about. Or is it?


Old hippies and new hipsters, take heart. All online colleges are not alike. If you crave an online education that feeds your social beast, get grooving with the official Get Educated list of top progressive colleges online.


If your educational goal is to make the world a better place — and yourself a better citizen — try college online at one of our editor’s Six Sisters of Intellectual Hope for social progressives.


Top Online Colleges: The Socially Progressive Six Sisters

Top Online Socially Progressive Colleges|"Resistance of the heart against business as usual" chalk drawing


  1. Goddard College
  2. Burlington College
  3. Warren Wilson College
  4. Antioch University
  5. Union Institute & University
  6. The New School

1. Goddard College, Plainfield, VT

Goddard College is a Top Socially Progressive Online College|Goddard College Design Center

Goddard's College Design Center

Lisa Yarost/flickr


America’s most enduring socially progressive college sparked to life in 1863 in the woods of Vermont. Dr. Tim Pitkin ached for a no-nonsense college where any man could revel in “plain living and hard thinking.”


Every Goddard student I know still glows with this home-spun idealism.


Students who have drawn inspiration from Goddard include playwright David Mamet, Bread and Puppet  political puppeter Peter Schumann, actor William H. Macy, two Phish band members, and activists the likes of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther oft-cited as “perhaps the world’s best known death-row inmate.”


In 1963, Goddard opened the first low-residency adult degree program for socially-conscious commoners. Higher education has been on a long, strange trip ever since.


Goddard threw out letter grades. Students are required to write narrative contracts that outline what they will study, and how their studies will makes a difference in their lives – not their careers, mind you — but their everyday existence.


Today, Goddard mentors 600 distance students who taste campus life at the beginning of each semester by attending week-long residencies at the Plainfield, VT or Port Townsend, WA campuses. Art, writing, social justice, psychology, and environmentalism are among the most popular online degree majors.


2. Burlington College, Burlington, VT

Burlington College is a Top Online Socially Progressive College|Political Mural in Burlington, VT

Political Mural in Burlington, VT

Justin Henry/flickr

Burlington College, Goddard’s sassy little sister, sits on the lip of Lake Champlain in the urban hipster hub, Burlington, VT.


BC was founded in 1972 as the Vermont Institute for Community Involvement (VICI). Back in the day – we’re talking the 70s here, cool cats – a group of activists decided that higher education should focus on civic change. BC’s mission was, and still is, to make the world a more just place one socially enlightened mind at a time.


Students can study 100% on campus or through online learning with pot-luck residencies every six months. Online students are encouraged to crack the curriculum and design majors in integral psychology, the expressive arts, writing and literature, film, and justice studies.


3. Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC

Top Progressive Online College Warren Wilson Service Fair

Warren Wilson College Service Fair

Warren Wilson graduates more Peace Corp volunteers than any other college.


The Warren Wilson mountain campus includes a 300-acre farm and a 600-acre forest. Students can enjoy “25 miles of hiking trails, numerous cows, pigs, and a few bears.” And oh, yeah, all students are required to work 15 hours per week to mow, weed, and harvest this organic menagerie.


Sharpen your digital quills, hep cats. WWC’s online Master of Fine Arts for Writers is the cat’s pajamas. Writers convene in the Blue Ridge mountains for ten days, then fly away home. Students swap stories online until it’s time to meet up with their mentors in the mountains again.


This online MFA program boasts esteemed faculty, including two national poet laureates, a MacArthur Genius, and several Guggenheim Fellows.


4. Antioch University, Yellow Springs, OH


“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

–Horace Mann, Antioch College Founder, 1859


Horace Mann, architect of the American public school system – and the first educator to admit women and blacks to college as the equals of white men – founded Antioch College in Ohio in 1859.


Top Online Socially Progressive Colleges|Tie-dye wall mural with bike

"Way Out" Mural in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Allen McGregor/flickr

Antioch alum are infamous for turning radical ideals into social campaigns and businesses. In fact, one of the founding hallmarks of the college was its requirement that all students engage in co-operative work for college credit in tandem with their book learning (a rad idea in the 1800s).


Antioch fell on hard times in the 21st century. The flagship Ohio campus closed briefly in 2009 but has re-opened. Yellow Springs is again a mecca for young progressive minds. To lure back residential students, the college currently offers bachelor students 100% free tuition.


Antioch University, the graduate school that offers professional masters degrees, never closed. AU in Los Angeles and Ohio both offer low-residency degrees for working adults. Antioch Los Angeles offers a low-residency distance Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability.


Among AU’s famous online alumni on the West Coast is Desperate-Housewife-turned-therapist Marcia Cross.


5. Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH

Top Online Socially Progressive Colleges| Poster "Pull off the modernization suit and tie and let the naked sun shine on you" chalk drawing


The doctorate degree (PhD) was protected from experimentation until the Union Institute was forged in 1964. The Union Institute was the first American university to allow working scholars to earn doctorate degrees while remaining productive in their communities. Today, the scholar/practitioner online PhD pioneered by the Union has gained wide acceptance among working professionals.


The Union Institute also offers low-residency online bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees in creativity, the arts, business, education, the environment and sustainability, global studies, health and wellness, education and psychology, and social work.



6. The New School, New York City, NY


Top Online Socially Progressive Colleges|Student protest at The New School

Student Activism at The New School


In 1899, a group of New York intellectuals launched a free school for working men. This “New” School quickly assumed status as the place for immigrants to test out ideas in urban design, architecture, art, politics, and psychology.  Greenwich Village, and a new era of American intellectualism, was born.


In the 1930s, the University in Exile – the New School’s first graduate school – opened as a harbor for European intellectuals fleeing Nazi oppression. Today, the New School claims hep cats Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Jack Kerouac as former students.


The contemporary New School houses the New School for Social Engagement. The latter offers a 100% online bachelor degree that fuses civic engagement with the arts and social activism.




Did our editors miss any top online colleges for hep cats?

Let us know, daddy-o …


Top Online Socially Progressive Colleges|Hipster kitty with glasses

Can I Haz More?

Written by:

About Vicky Phillips

Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees - Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College. She oversees the best online college rankings and reviews for
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5 Responses to Top Progressive Colleges Online for Old Hippies and New Hipsters

  1. Charlene Backus says:

    Hello, I would eventually like a masters in publc health. The only option for me at this point is online college. I do not yet have a bachelors or an associates degree. All I have now is the motivation to learn and earn a degree. I have graduated High school and would appreciate a professional opinion on what my next steps will be to achieve my goal. I would prefer a top online college with high graduation rates and great online professers.

  2. Dr. DJ Tanner says:

    As a graduate of both Goddard and Union, I describe the two schools as quite different. Goddard is an authentic and communal learning community, committed to small classroom size, individual education, and progressive ideals. Union’s PhD program, however, is a catch-all for flakes, both employed and unemployable. Without a campus, Union’s PhD occupies a major corporate hotel in downtown Cincinnati, and continues to function without a dean, or substantial faculty leadership. Unlike Goddard, who hosted a forum about the Occupy Movement and has shown a commitment to student service, Union has gone out of their way to make sure their program is intellectually safe– for vulture capitalists, climate change deniers, bigots, and anyone else who wants more letters in front of their name, and can afford tuition. If you want to learn about SOCIAL CHANGE, go to Goddard; if you want to learn about higher education’s methods of propaganda, and watch a semi-smart faculty flex in just about every way to continue to earn their paycheck, go to Union.

  3. Dan says:

    There is a school out there for everyone, and I think this post helps to show that. I am going to have to tell my “unique” Aunt about some of the ones you mentioned, they may be a great fit for her!

  4. Crazy says:

    Goddard College costs $9,022 per semester for five semesters?! For what?

  5. Tina Jackson says:

    Very intersting reading about these 6 schools. Thanks for sharing some of the history about these too. Groovy!

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