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How We Saved Students $2 Million in 5 Years

We hope to reach as many students as possible with the ZTC Degree initiative which is helping to remove the barriers caused by the high cost of textbooks but particularly for those from marginalized groups such as first-generation students, low-income students, and other student equity populations.

Submitted by:

  • Suzanne Wakim, OER Coordinator, OER Initiative Regional Lead: ASCCC, Biology & Honors Faculty
  • Rachel Arteaga, Associate Faculty Reference & Instruction Librarian

ZTC Degree or Certificate

The two-stage grant funding allowed us to plan ahead to determine what practices would be most beneficial to Butte College with regards to developing ZTC degree pathways and then we were able to apply for an implementation grant for stage two to move forward with developing the pathways.

Published on February 23, 2020


Data collected in a 2016 Butte CollStudent Impact Costs of Textbooksege student survey show that 31% of students stated that they take fewer courses due to the cost of textbooks. The OER/ZTC Degree initiative aims to help these students complete their degrees faster by allowing them to take more classes per semester. In the same survey, 17% of  students stated that they withdraw from classes while 18% stated that they earned a poor grade because they could not afford the textbook for that course. By addressing these numbers through this initiative, we aim to help these students successfully complete their courses. Finally, for the students who stated that they go into debt to buy these books, this initiative aims to help these students better afford college by decreasing or eliminating debt caused by textbook purchases.

Prior Experience:  

We received two rounds of funding from AB 798 as well as two rounds from the California Community Colleges’ ZTC Degree grant, one for planning and a second one for implementation.   Suzanne Wakim is a regional lead for the ASCCC OERI (California Community Colleges’ Statewide Academic Senate OER Initiative). Rachel Arteaga is the ASCCC OERI liaison for Butte College.

For several years we facilitated an Introduction to OER course for faculty at Butte College that was also open to anyone interested. Both an in person and a live Introduction to Open Educational Resources Courseonline version of the workshops were offered on topics such as CC licensing, universal design, and open pedagogy. Faculty could receive professional development credit in a variety of ways through the completion of the course. In addition to the workshops we developed a corresponding Canvas course that is open to anyone to enroll in, adapt, or use.

The grant funding has allowed us to support faculty looking for OER through stipends and librarian help, progress our work building the number of OER classes, hire student assistants, implement the logo in the class schedule, and work on numerous other duties we would not have been able to afford without funding.

The funding from all of these initiatives allowed us to foster campus-wide support which resulted in a culture shift both at the faculty and administrative levels. This has resulted in sustainability of OER efforts beyond the time-frame of the grants.  One example of this is district funding of sabbaticals for the production of OER and ongoing librarian hours specifically for OER efforts.  We cannot emphasize enough that funding through these statewide initiatives was essential in successfully establishing OER/ZTC courses and therefore degrees at Butte College.

Planning and Challenges:

The buildup to launching our degree pathways was a slow but steady process over several years of continuous work. Recognizing that the work would not happen overnight was important in overcoming the challenge of the time and effort spent working towards a widespread knowledge of OER/ZTC at Butte College and a significant number of classes moved to ZTC.

Though the time and effort of several years of work was a challenge, it was made easier by a very supportive Academic Senate and administration. We were always allowed a platform to speak about the benefits of OER and the Senate and administration did their part to both spread the message and support the work in other concrete ways.

Sometimes introducing new ideas into an existing culture and structure can be challenging and this was anticipated in the beginning. However, we have received minimal pushback, and the campus as a whole from administration, staff, faculty, and students have been very supportive in our efforts to move classes to ZTC and establish degrees. We do not know the primary reason for this overwhelming support, therefore it might be useful to look more closely at what makes our campus culture so supportive on this initiative.

Our biggest challenge has been getting students involved in a meaningful way. When we talk to students about ZTC courses they are in general very supportive and appreciative of our work. However, we have not had any student group take up the high cost of textbooks as their particular cause. We have also hired half a dozen student assistants to help us with our work but have had limited success in getting them to buy into spreading information and messaging to other students. In part, this might be because it is a challenge on our campus to consistently reach large groups of students.

Faculty Engagement

We used several strategies to engage faculty. A successful but ultimately unsustainable method of engagement was to offer faculty stipends for work researching and curating OER for their classes. As the amount of work that goes into curating and adopting an OER for a class is substantial, offering to pay faculty for their work takes a bit of the sting out of the time commitment this process typically involves.

For a number of semesters, workshops on different topics related to OER were offered. Faculty could get FLEX credit or a unit of professional development credit if they completed the online course and homework associated with the workshops. Faculty also earned a Certificate or Badge through Canvas. Though we did have a significant amount of success with thee workshops, the time involved for the facilitators was substantial and was not justifiable in the long run.

What seems to help engage faculty the most was offering to help them find resources for their classes through custom meetings and searches. When faculty could directly communicate what they were looking for in a resource and were able to look at a number of high-quality resources for their subject, the adoption rate of OER was much higher. Unfortunately, not every subject has high-quality resources. Meeting with faculty who want to move their course to ZTC establishes a need and helps direct what is created in the future. In addition to one-on-one support we also developed workshops on how to search for OER.  These served as a good introduction to faculty and ultimately lead to a number of faculty reaching out for more help.  This was a useful way to begin the process of finding resources in a larger group setting.

Stakeholder Engagement

Various stakeholders have been tremendously supportive. Librarian, Rachel Arteaga, is a key part of the team and does most of the searches for faculty requesting help finding OER. Her role also allows her to use the library’s support in sharing information and resources with the rest of campus when needed.

Our team also works closely with the campus bookstore. Because the bookstore wants to help students save money and successfully complete coursework, we have been able to develop strategies that allow for low cost print versions of OER.

We have also had success working with our IT Service and Support on the class schedule allowing the display of the ZTC icon as well as an option to limit the search for classes to display only ZTC classes.

Support from various stakeholders on campus may be due to early support from administration. Because those higher up in the campus hierarchy created an environment of support, other groups could also be supportive without hesitation. Some key ways our administration lent support to OER and ZTC include accepting sabbatical projects focused on OER work, allowing OER workshops to count towards continuing education, and allowing us a platform for communication at many key times and events. For example, our President has mentioned OER in her Institute Day Presentation to the entire Campus and our Media Relations department has developed news stories about OER at Butte.

Student Awareness & Engagement

During the first semester of OER courses, a survey was sent to students which allowed us to establish how the cost of textbooks affects students and their decisions about courses. We began to work on the survey again at the end of 2018, however, many of our plans were derailed by the Camp Wildfire. It is our goal to work on the survey again this semester for additional feedback.

We also reached many students by having a presence on campus during registration and large campus events. This allows students to stop by our table so we can share information, mainly about the meaning of the icon on the class schedule. We also have a guide, hosted by the library, that allows students to see potential resources and classes that use OER and are ZTC. Our next big push is more specifically about the ZTC degrees. We have marketed them in the past to a certain extent, but plan to work with groups on campus that can more directly communicate to students about the option of the ZTC degrees.


A frustrating but common challenge is a lack of resources in certain subject areas. Sometimes an instructor will be ready and willing to make the switch to OER but there are just not any useful OER for their subject. A lack of resources can be disheartening for faculty, especially with the time commitment it takes to create new materials. What is encouraging, however, is that some faculty saw this challenge as an opportunity to curate or create materials for their course. Faculty at Butte have successfully applied for funding from the ASCCC for OER projects. The district has supported sabbatical projects focused on developing OER.  Also, just the knowledge that there are gaps in certain subject areas is useful so that we know what needs to be created but also so that we can look out for new materials and pass them on to interested instructors when we find them.


Student Savings Per Semester


In the years that we have worked to introduce OER and ZTC degrees to Butte College, we have seen a steady rise in the number of ZTC courses offered. For example, Fall 2015 had 17 sections, 4 classes, and 7 instructors offering ZTC courses. By Fall 2019 there were 227 sections, 73 classes, and 104 instructors offering ZTC courses at Butte College. We wish to grow these numbers steadily as the word spreads, and more resources become available for other courses. We have saved students $2 Million over the past 5 years ($350,000 in Fall of 2019 alone).


Lessons Learned

Below are some key takeaways that we have learned throughout this process.

  • Faculty need to be trained about licensing, OER, and copyright in general. It is important to have contacts on campus who are experts and can train and answer faulty questions. A good place to start this conversation is through the library.
  • Data should be collected about student success and how it is connected to ZTC and OER. This data is essential in convincing faculty and administration that ZTC matters.
  • Searching for OER can be challenging.  It is essential to have a librarian or another professional help faculty search for resources.
  • Develop methods to help faculty move to ZTC for fields with fewer resources. For example, you can share statewide (and other) opportunities, help faculty draft letters for sabbaticals, build communities of practice on campus, or create local professional development opportunities for faculty to learn about OER and ZTC.
  • Form solid connections with other groups on campus. Places you can start include the equity or other committees, the library, your campus bookstore, enthusiastic disciplines and their departments, or any other group that has an obvious stake in ZTC.
  • Recognize faculty work in some manner be it with certificates, awards, or anything that will show appreciation to faculty or others who have supported ZTC.


We have had success linking the OER/ZTC initiatives to our campus’s Equity program which will provide ongoing funding for the next few years. Ideally, we would have the OER/ZTC program linked to a permanent position in the library.

Future Aspirations

Our next step will be to build clear General Education (GE) ZTC Pathways with a robust set of course offerings. This would allow students to plan ahead and build a ZTC education plan. We would be able to reach a greater number of students, allowing them to get their GE done with little to no textbook costs. This goal would require listing all of the GE classes that are ZTC (and what percent of the sections for that class). We would then look at strategies on how to get more classes to ZTC so that as many students as possible can complete GE ZTC Pathways.