New Z Degree program allows students to earn degree with no textbook costs

Dr. Annalisa Alvrus and Laura BallardDr. Annalisa Alvrus, MCC Anthropology faculty member, and Laura Ballard, MCC director of eLearning, create free educational resources so students don’t have to purchase textbooks. 

Mesa Community College offers a new Arizona General Education Curriculum (AGEC) Z Degree, providing an opportunity for students to earn an associate’s degree without ever having to step foot inside a classroom or purchase a textbook. 

The MCC Z Degree, or zero textbook cost degree, embraces online education and provides a lower-cost alternative to MCC students. Numerous studies indicate when students decide to attend college and select a major, the decision is mostly based upon the costs, attendance and instructional materials. MCC Z Degree students can save up to an estimated $8,332, or 62 percent, over the cost of a traditional associate degree program. 

Add in commuting savings to and from the college campus and potential child care costs and savings increase even more. 

Classes in the Z Degree program use open educational resources (OER), streaming media, library databases and faculty-developed content. Instructors work closely with the MCC Center for Teaching & Learning team to develop the content for each Z Course offered. 

The MCC Z Degree Program is funded by the eLearning Department and inspired by the Maricopa Millions initiative, a grant established in 2013 by Maricopa Community Colleges to support use of OERs, which are intended to reduce educational costs for students while providing immediate and permanent access to learning resources. Maricopa Millions saved students more than $11.5 million in its first five years, while MCC’s Z Degree has saved students half-a-million dollars in its first three semesters. 

Preliminary data shows that the first semester of Z Degree classes in Fall 2018 had a 6 percent increase in student success compared to non-Z Degree online classes and a 6-10 percent increase in learning retention when classes are conducted online. 

Though the AGEC is MCC’s first Z Degree, the college offers 20 Z Courses. Students in a Z Degree program are expected to take two Z Courses per eight-week semester, allowing them to earn their associate’s degree in 18 months. 

In addition to converting more classes to Z Courses, MCC plans to roll out a second Z Degree. An Associates in Business Administration is expected Fall 2019, along with an additional six Z Courses per semester through Spring 2020.