SCTCC Set to Offer Z-Degree

Open Educational Resources
February 3, 2021

Minnesota State colleges are working on saving even more money for students by implementing Z-Degrees, which are AA degrees with no textbook costs. Directed by the Minnesota legislature, in 2019 the Z-Degree saved students $1.28 million on textbooks statewide. SCTCC is set to start offering it fall 2021.

Mark Gucinski, biology instructor at SCTCC, has been working on the Z-Degree alongside Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean, Melissa Lindsey. Right now, 17 faculty at SCTCC are working on converting their classes for fall.

It’s not uncommon for students to wait to purchase their textbooks or not get them at all because of the cost, and that means right away, students are behind in class.

“The Z-Degree ensures that all our students have access to course materials on day one,” he said.  “This will help them be more successful over the course of the semester because they won’t start off behind in class.”

Instead of a traditional textbook that may cost upwards of $200 for some classes, the Z-Degree classes offer the textbook as a digital copy that can be accessed and downloaded from D2L Brightspace. Students will have access to purchase the hardcover book or copies in the Bookstore, but the classes will also have the digital-only option.

“The Z degree at SCTCC is a great step forward for all students by reducing barriers they may face as they complete their educational journey,” Gucinski said of the Z-Degree.

The no-cost textbook is a big step toward reducing costs for students, but it does bring up a question of access for those who may not have reliable computer or internet access. The good news is that SCTCC has computer labs and wi-fi on campus available, and the digital copies are downloadable. Some students may even be able to borrow a laptop and/or hotspot for the semester from the Help Desk.

It turns out that it’s not just students who are benefitting from the Z-Degree: in working with fellow instructors, Gucinski said that many of them are rediscovering that they are experts in their subjects. He explained that sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of teaching based on a textbook and using only that material.

“This [textbooks] may not be the best way to share it for students,” he said. “By developing a Z-Degree, faculty are crafting material that’s tailored to their students’ needs, reminding them that they can do it and help students see themselves in the course materials.”

More information on the Z-Degree project can be found at

Kate Wallace