Moving toward a zero textbook cost model at Cabrillo College
As the cost of college textbooks continue to rise, educators and students alike are looking to more contemporary modes of learning through digital resources and other no-cost materials in an effort to reduce expenses while also pivoting towards a more sustainable educations system.
College textbook prices continue to climb, adding to what’s already an expensive (albeit worth it) undertaking for many students. For California community college students, the cost of textbooks can often exceed the cost of tuition itself; a three unit course may cost $138 tuition but books for the course can cost $200 or more.
“The cost of textbooks has increased exponentially, and it’s frustrating. The pandemic highlighted even more so how important access to textbook affordability is.”
— Aloha Sargent, Technology Services Librarian at Cabrillo College
To help off-set some of this burden, there’s been increasing movement in the past few years to reduce textbook costs by moving to more digital resources. California’s Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) initiative, first launched as a pilot program in 2016 with 19 of the state’s community colleges. This model is aimed at replacing conventional textbooks with what are called open educational resources, digital textbooks and other no-cost materials to save students money and remove many of the financial barriers to degree completion. Ultimately, the goal is to enable entire degree pathways that are fully ZTC. According to a 2019 report from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, it can potentially save students as much as $700 a year.
The program has since been expanded, including another $115 million dollars earmarked by the state legislature in the summer of 2021 to expand ZTC degrees throughout the California community college system, including Cabrillo. Sargent has spearheaded Cabrillo’s efforts over the past couple of years, and 30% of the college’s courses are now designated as ZTC. When the spring semester begins in January, there will be a handful of courses going ZTC for the first time.
“We really want to be on the ground floor of this. We (the library staff) are working closely with faculty to find the appropriate resources.”
— Joanna Messer Kimmitt, Director of Library Programs & Services at Cabrillo College
Not only does reducing textbook costs save students money – helping address economic inequity – but it also cuts down costs for campus libraries that would otherwise need to purchase all of the different textbooks required across the course catalog. And that frees up additional budget for other materials students and faculty need.
“It’s a far more sustainable model for learning,” said Kimmit.
Sargent, Kimmitt and their colleagues work closely with faculty at Cabrillo to help ensure their ZTC resources are equal - if not better – than the textbooks they may have previously used. A major component of the ZTC initiative is the expansion of the use of what are called open educational resources (OERs.) These are teaching and learning resources that are in the public domain or have been released under an open license; they can be used free of charge, distributed without restriction and modified without permission. This allows faculty and staff to essentially customize and curate their own learning materials for each course. They can modify, mix and match and adapt as they see fit.
“With the right amount of support, faculty can convert (from physical textbooks,) but they need support and help,” said Sargent, who serves as Cabrillo’s ZTC liaison and works closely with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to provide guidance and recommendations for the state’s community college system.
Cabrillo faculty have been very receptive to these efforts and are finding that the use of OERs and other textbook alternatives can offer a lot more flexibility and customization. They’re often more current and include more relevant examples to the student experience. As efforts continue, the eventual goal will be to have entire degree programs at Cabrillo that are ZTC.
“There’s a wealth of info that shows how textbook costs impact student success,” said Sargent. “In the past though, there really wasn’t another option than the standard physical textbook.”