What would you get if you asked a group of designers to help solve some of the biggest puzzles in higher education: how to make college less expensive and more accessible?

How about classrooms in grocery stores?

Or a website, like Match.com, that matches students with "freely available" online textbooks and college courses?

Those are some of the ideas that bubbled up in a yearlong project called the Higher Ed Redesign Initiative, which was launched by the University of Minnesota and several other groups as an exercise in creative thinking.

"We wanted to approach this a little bit differently," said Chris Rasmussen, vice president of the Midwest Higher Education Compact, one of the cosponsors. Starting last fall, they brought together designers, college professors and a few people from the business and nonprofit worlds, and asked them to do some brainstorming over three long weekends in October, January and March. The results, three distinct prototypes for changing the college experience, will be presented Thursday to the executive committee of the Midwest compact, a coalition of higher education officials and legislators from 12 states.

Rasmussen says it's a little like the TV show "Shark Tank." The groups will try to sell their ideas to the officials on the panel, in hopes that someone may want to "invest" in it.

One prototype, Neighborhood U, envisions an outreach or extension service located in low-income neighborhoods. It could, for example, offer college prep and college-level programs in grocery stores or community housing.

Another, E-dagogy, is a type of academic matchmaker. It's designed to connect students with mentors, based on their interests and career goals, and steer them to the educational resources that are available for free on the Internet.

The ideas "may not be shovel ready," says Rasmussen. And the cost? Well, that's still to be determined. But he hopes this project will start a conversation. "We want them to be intrigued."