Minnesota West plans degree with no textbook costs

The college already offers multiple classes with no costs for textbooks, but a textbook-cost-free associate degree is planned for fall 2023.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College
Minnesota West Community and Technical College

WORTHINGTON — With the help of a $100,000 state grant and years of concerted effort from staff, it will be possible to earn an associate of arts degree at Minnesota West Community and Technical College without paying a single dime for textbooks.

“We’re excited to get this implementation grant,” said Kayla Westra, dean of liberal arts and K-12 partnerships at Minnesota West.

The college has been working on “Z-degree” classes for some time and already offers some courses with zero costs for materials, not just for textbooks but for lab manuals or any other required educational resources such as lab kits.

“Students like the affordability of it, and the accessibility of it,” Westra said, pointing out that digital tools often offer functions like multiple languages or audio options for the visually-impaired and those who prefer to learn by listening rather than reading.

During class registration, students have already shown a clear preference for classes with no textbook costs, as those courses usually fill up before identical classes with costs, Westra said.


Currently, a wide variety of classes fall under the Z-degree umbrella at Minnesota West, from Inorganic Chemistry I to American Government and Politics to Composition II.

While students taking Z-degree classes do still have to pay tuition, the cost of textbooks for two years of classes at Minnesota West is around $2,400. That can add a significant financial burden to a student’s debt and make college less accessible.

Free textbook, not textbook-free

Rather than conventional textbooks, many Z-degree classes use open educational resources — online textbooks and resources.

Some teachers write their own materials for use in their classes, and students can also be given online links to educational resources paid for by the college itself, such as JSTOR, an academic digital library containing an array of research journals and books.

There are other options for reducing or eliminating the cost of materials, too, such as partnering with local businesses and industries for tools, said Kip Thorson, director of library and academic resources at Minnesota West.

The grant, provided to Minnesota State through a bill passed by Minnesota lawmakers, will allow Minnesota West staff to find the most reliable, up-to-date and high-quality resources for use in the classroom, with the new Z-degree implemented by fall 2023.

The drive toward decreasing and eliminating textbook costs is a national one, Thorson said, and other Minnesota State schools are also working on Z-degrees if they don’t have them.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

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