Northland Community and Technical College is launching a new program aimed at cutting down the cost of getting a degree.

Known as the Z-Degree, the program will use no-cost electronic textbook and educational materials that will allow students to earn an associate’s of arts degree without having to pay for textbooks, the college announced in a press release Monday.

The college said that textbooks can account for more than 15% of college costs. It estimates the Z-Degree program could save students up to $2,000 throughout the course of earning their degree. Northland’s tuition and fees average around $5,700 annually, which is among the lowest in Minnesota.

The program is part of a campaign outlined in Minnesota’s latest legislative session, which directed Minnesota State colleges and universities to expand Z-Degree opportunities across the state by the 2020-2021 academic year.

The program will use open educational resources, also referred to as OER, which replaces traditional textbooks with online files that are available at no charge. OER have been increasing in popularity in higher ed systems across the country in recent years. Open educational resources include teaching, learning and research resources as well as textbooks, videos, texts, software, tools and materials that reside in the public domain or that have been released under an intellectual property license permitting their free use. These materials were originally shared among teaching professionals for course and professional development, but have moved beyond that realm and are widely assigned by faculty as class materials.

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"While cost is just one obstacle for students – the use of (open educational resources) removes more than just cost as the materials are available for students from day one in a course," Brian Huschle, Northland provost, said in a statement. "This removes another common barrier for students who have trouble financially acquiring course materials to get off to a great start in a class."

There are four pathways that fall under Northland’s Z-Degree program, including liberal arts and science, history transfer pathway, sociology transfer pathway and economics transfer pathway.

After receiving one of these degrees, Northland graduates will have the ability to transfer the credits to any university. Students studying liberal arts classes as part of other programs at Northland also will be able to register for Z-Degree courses.