Finding shared cause: Developing Z-degree pathways across multiple community colleges

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

This panel features instructional designers, administrators, and faculty of different community colleges in Idaho. Join us as we share our experiences in developing institutional as well as statewide Z-degree Pathways. We will discuss the unique challenges each of our institutions faced in planning Z-degree Pathways and identify how we were able to work together to meet these challenges. By sharing these experiences, we anticipate a deeper discussion with attendees about how to implement the same state-wide policy with flexibility and consistency.


Greg has served as the General Education Coordinator for the College of Western Idaho since 2019. Before that, he was involved in instruction with an interest in Open Educational Resources (OER), universal design for online learning, and has taught at the College of Western Idaho and Boise State University since 2011. He received his BA in English from the University of Idaho and a Masters in English from the University of Dallas.
Brian Seguin (Say-Gwynn) discovered a career in academic librarianship as a first-generation college student at North Idaho College (NIC). He earned a B.S. in Graphic Design from San Francisco State University and a M.L.I.S. from San Jose State University. While living in the Bay Area he worked in smaller, discipline specific colleges. He provided instruction and research support to advanced degree students in business, clinical psychiatry, and organizational psychology. He also provided support to undergraduate students in art, design, marketing, and business. He is currently an Associate Professor, Librarian with North Idaho College (NIC). At NIC he provides specialized classroom instruction, research assistance, oversees the Public Services Department, and collaborates with the campus community to develop and maintain a diverse collection of resources that support course curriculum and lifelong learning. Most recently he is helping coordinate Project Z (OER) efforts at the College.

Additional Authors

Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.

Extended Abstract

The idea of a “Z-degree pathway” or a “zero or very low-cost degree,” especially with regards to textbook cost, is becoming an increasingly popular option at community colleges across the country. Due to Open Education Resources (OER) use and other developments in delivering instruction materials via digital technology, the costs shouldered by students and the access issues that accompany commercial textbooks are becoming easier to address. 

For these reasons, increasing numbers of faculty at our institutions use various instructional materials, including OER and library resources, in their courses to reduce or eliminate price while also increasing access to required materials. In the end, this increases inclusion in higher education and supports faculty to tailor their content to be exactly what they want. When all classes towards a degree become low-cost, a Z-degree is created…the next step towards access. 

In the State of Idaho, the State Board of Education recently announced a policy of instructional materials access and affordability for Idaho students (Governing Policies and Procedures; Section III. Postsecondary Affairs; Subsection U). 

As part of implementing this policy, each postsecondary institution must develop and adopt a plan to increase access and affordability of instructional materials for all students. In Spring 2021, Idaho’s Governor proposed a one million dollar grant to support the four public community colleges in launching a very-low to no-cost textbook degree pathway by the start of the Spring 2023 semester. This gave the community colleges about 18 months to plan for these degrees, gather interested faculty to support OER in their individual courses, and do so in a way that does not unnecessarily duplicate work being done at the other community colleges. We are only now learning the true size of this task and figuring out how best to support each other in reaching our common goals. 

This panel will address the policy initiative not only with a holistic view of what we want to accomplish together, but also take a closer look at how some issues are, at best,  institution-, discipline-, or job-specific. Questions that might be answered include:

  1. What unique challenges did each institution face when planning or implementing their Z degree policies?
  2. What was the average timeline for institutions to implement their Z degrees?  
  3. What unique processes did each institution develop for a course to adopt OER resources, and how was each process revised to include institution-specific support?
  4. What training or workshops were available for faculty members or instructors to build zero-textbook cost courses? 
  5. What group/center at each institution was responsible for providing ongoing support and services for creating or adapting OER materials?   
  6. What did we not expect to be doing as the campus coordinators of these efforts?
  7. What other open resources and technologies did faculty members adopt for increasing the interaction and engagement between students and course content?   
  8. How have students responded to courses using OER materials?         

III.U Instructional Material Access and Affordability. (2021 June). Retrieved from
Z-degree Report to the Legislature. (2021, January 13). Retrieved from