Inver Hills Receives $100,000 to Create Z-Degree

Grant supports Z-degree course creation, finalization, and implementation

Inver Hills Community College received $100,000 through the Minnesota Legislature and Minnesota State to create, finalize, and implement a new Z-degree by spring of 2026. Z-degrees are complete associate or bachelor’s degree programs that exclusively use course resources that have zero-cost to students such as open educational resources (OER), open textbooks, and library-curated materials.

Elaina Bleifield, PhD

“We are nearly ready to offer a Z-degree,” said Elaina Bleifield, PhD, the college’s vice president of academic affairs. “We only need to expand our offerings in Minnesota Transfer Curriculum Goal Area 4 as we have courses already developed in other MnTC Goal Areas.

“As a part of our previous work, we have asked folks to commit to offering a course in a no-cost materials format for two years. We offered faculty stipends for this coming summer to expand our no-cost course offerings—and three faculty are developing materials for five courses.”

Elaina explained that additional rounds of stipends will be available to instructors in the coming year to develop other courses.

“Katie Nelson, PhD, anthropology instructor at Inver Hills, will serve as the faculty champion leading this work,” Elaina added. “Katie will help convene a leadership group for expanding our offerings and will share her expertise with faculty developing the Z-degree.”

Faculty perspective: Katie Nelson, PhD

“The costs of textbooks and course materials are among the highest out-of-pocket expenses for college students. Unfortunately, these costs have exploded in recent years, putting increasing pressure on students and their families.

Katie Nelson, PhD

“Z-degree programs have been shown to significantly reduce the financial barriers to higher education, and improve course and degree success and completion rates. Students receive the same high-quality learning experiences while paying little to none for their textbooks and learning materials.

“Inver Hills Community College faculty, administrators, and staff are passionate about the success of our students and creating a learning environment where everyone belongs. Innovative and proven initiatives such as Z-degrees are examples of our dedication to these goals.

“We have been working for more than four years to build our Z-degree program, and we look forward to officially launching the program in the near future.”

Katie Nelson, PhD
Anthropology Faculty
2022 Minnesota State Board of Trustees Educator of the Year
Inver Hills Community College

More about Z-degrees…

Creating, finalizing, and implementing a new Z-degree involves activities that may include:
  • Course development for Z-degree with at least two distinct courses in each transfer curriculum goal area and at least enough credits in each transfer curriculum goal area to complete the transfer curriculum package
  • Acquisition of library-curated resources that would be available at no cost to students
Implementation award requirements include:
  • Ability to offer a Z-degree by spring 2026
  • Enabling of the Course Marking feature in ISRS which allows for the identification of no-cost courses
  • Participate in Minnesota State Z-degree community of practice
  • Meet each semester with associate vice chancellor for educational development and technology and system director for student success technologies to discuss project status

Note: Instructors cannot require students to purchase any course resources in a Z-degree program. Optional or supplemental resources that are a cost to students may be recommended.

Useful links

Learn more about Z-degree creation, finalization, and implementation at Inver Hills by contacting:

Katie Nelson, PhD
Anthropology Faculty
2022 Minnesota State Board of Trustees Educator of the Year
Inver Hills Community College

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