Faced with an urgent need for accessible, affordable education, Arizona’s West Valley is venturing into a brave new academic experiment called the "communiversity," reports the Arizona Republic. Not quite a community college and not quite a university, a communiversity intends to offer the best of both. "It’s incredibly innovative," said Todd Aakhus, community-partnership director of Rio Salado College, which is leading the project. "This will be a national model." Based on an idea gaining traction across the country, the communiversity is a partnership of three Maricopa Community Colleges and as many as five universities. Rio Salado, Glendale, and Phoenix community colleges will join with four-year universities to bring education to students instead of having students travel to their campuses. The communiversity will do what a community college does best: offer fast, focused classes to adults and the first two years of basic education to high-school graduates. When students earn an associate degree, they will not have to transfer to a four-year campus hoping that most of their credits will be accepted. Instead, the student will continue on a path that could lead to a master’s degree, even if more than one college is involved. University professors will come to the Surprise, Ariz., site and teach online, in person, or–if a hybrid class–do both. Anita Voogt, dean of the communiversity in Brookdale, N.J., helped advise Rio Salado on the Surprise project. In New Jersey, Voogt said, a student can begin at Brookdale Community College and leave with a master’s degree from Rutgers without ever leaving the Brookdale campus. It’s cheaper as well: Communiversity students can often shave at least 33 percent from the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Voogt said the plan has helped boost graduation rates, a problem so vexing that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced last month a $500 million initiative to help community-college students finish their studies. Nationally, only 36 percent of college-bound students from low-income households earn degrees…

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