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Start to Finish Without Purchasing a Textbook

The Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Degree initiative is so critical because it reaches all students, regardless of demographics. As we work toward closing equity gaps here on campus and providing free college through the Promise Program, ZTC courses provide one way to eliminate this costly barrier. Disproportionately impacted students are able to start these classes with a textbook on day one. Our institutional research indicates that equity gaps specifically for Latinx students improved dramatically in ZTC courses, with 8% higher success rates for these students in online sections with ZTC.

Submitted by:

  • Jennifer Pakula, Economics Professor (lower)
  • Nicole Major, Sociology Professor (top)

ZTC Degree and Certificate Pathways

In Fall 2020, Saddleback College will have a ZTC Pathway for General Education to CSU and IGETC, meaning that students may complete all of their undergraduate requirements without purchasing a single textbook! This will open many opportunities for additional ZTC Degree Majors as well. Because the ZTC pathway for General Education to CSU and IGETC involves participation across disciplines, we have linked the current class schedule showing a list of all ZTC courses/sections offered). Our schedule also has the ability to sort classes by ZTC, meaning that they can choose to just look at ZTC courses when building their schedules.

Published on February 22, 2020


Would it be possible to start and finish Saddleback without purchasing a textbook?

This was a thought we had in 2016 when we started the OER/ZTC Workgroup. We wanted to approach this question strategically and focus our efforts creating a ZTC pathway that would impact the most students. A third of all degrees awarded at Saddleback College are General Education certificates, either for the California State University (CSU) system or Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC). We knew that if our work was going to have the biggest impact, we would need to get a critical mass of faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER) and other free resources.Textbook Prices Astronomical

In Fall 2020, Saddleback College, as a campus community, was able to answer our initial question with a resounding “Yes!” Yes, students can now start and finish Saddleback, earning their general education certificate, without purchasing a textbook. WE did this together. From Physics to Sociology, English to Math, Child Development to Economics, and many more departments across the campus, faculty, deans, and staff all worked together to eliminate costs, and to achieve our goal.

Not only are the faculty of Saddleback College working together to remove textbook costs as a barrier to education, but we are also increasing equity by providing all students access to learning materials on the first day of class and increasing completers in a shorter period of time.

Furthermore, faculty have been making positive pedagogical changes as they adopt ZTC alternatives for their courses. OER allow faculty to be in the “driver’s seat” as they take control of the materials in their courses and remove the publishers’ barriers. This has been a welcome and unexpected benefit from increasing OER usage: faculty have felt empowered to create, modify, and innovate with their course materials to an extent never allowed in the past with traditional publisher materials.

Prior Experience

Saddleback College was awarded $35,000 in 2016 as part of the Zero Textbook Cost Degree Planning Grant Program, and this proved to be our program’s “seed money”. We utilized these funds to offer stipends to faculty to convert their courses from traditional publisher textbooks to ZTC alternatives. This initial grant allowed us to assess how many faculty across the campus were interested and motivated to adopt ZTC.

In June 2017, Saddleback was chosen as an OpenStax Institutional Partner which involved extensive planning and documentation to increase our efforts and number of faculty who used ZTC. This support greatly increased our presence on campus and saved students over a million dollars in additional ZTC adoptions. The momentum from June 2017-2018 helped us align for ZTC pathways.

Jennifer and Nicole are also the ASCCC OERI Liaisons, as well as the Equity Champions for the state of California. Working with colleagues across the state has allowed us to provide our fellow colleagues at Saddleback with the most recent trends and adoptions at other colleges, as well as provide the latest resources to colleagues who are still searching for ZTC alternatives.

Planning & Challenges 

When the OER/ZTC Workgroup was formed in Fall 2016, we sent a survey to all faculty to determine how many faculty were already utilizing OER. Although we are sure there were some faculty who did not respond to the survey, it revealed that there were only six faculty who had ZTC courses. Our path from 2016 to today was filled with many challenges! Many faculty were simply not aware of OER and had misconceptions about how courses that utilized OER would articulate to the University of California (UC) and CSU system. We held a one-day symposium to provide information to faculty, staff, and administration. James Glapa-Grosslag and Hal Polkin spoke at the symposium and energized faculty to re-think how they approached their selection of learning materials.

Administration has supported our efforts since the very beginning. We have had funding every semester since Fall 2016 to offer a stipend to faculty who convert a course to ZTC, with funding shifting to categorical and grant money at times. Nicole and Jennifer, co-coordinators of the OER/ZTC workgroup, attend many department and division meetings across campus to share information and answer questions about OER and ZTC options.

Working together with the Office of Planning, Research and Accreditation, we gathered data that compared ZTC to non-ZTC sections. We shared the data with committees across campus, including Student Success, Academic Senate, Deans, and Chairs’ meetings. In Spring 2019, we mapped out the progress we had made in creating a ZTC pathway for general education and shared the “gaps” with stakeholders across campus. This fueled those departments that did not have ZTC courses to work towards the common goal.

The last three years have been filled with many emails, one-on-one meetings, and assistance from librarians to help raise awareness. It takes time!!

Faculty Engagement

As noted above, when we encountered challenges we had to re-think how we would engage faculty to join this cultural shift. We decided early on that we would not get distracted or involved in departmental politics regarding textbook selection, and issues of individual/department choices in these matters. Rather, we encouraged faculty to communicate directly with their departments and deans about their textbook choices, and when they are ready to learn about OER and other free resources, we would be there to support them Sharing specific resources at division and department meetings across campus proved to be successful. For example, in 2017, we purchased all available OpenStax textbooks through a grant and carted them to each meeting so that faculty could have a tangible resource to “check-out” from us. Our Speech department was critical in creating a ZTC pathway so we met individually with the full-time faculty, then hosted a workshop for all of their faculty to provide high-quality OER for them to consider. This was a huge shift!

Faculty are busy and when more work is requested, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in the process if there is some monetary compensation. We are thankful that our college supports ZTC and provides faculty stipends for each course conversion. In addition, we recognize their contributions during Open Education Week in early March. Last year, we created ZTC Hero pins and a thank you note that was delivered to each faculty member’s mailbox, another year we brought cookies and created a wall with the names of faculty who use ZTC. Our website also has a list of “ZTC Heros” showcasing the faculty. This spring we are sending Certificates of Acknowledgment signed by the College President to show our appreciation for their efforts.

Since Spring 2017, we have offered two professional development workshops annually during our faculty in-service week. The ZTC librarians and the co-chairs facilitated hands-on workshops to find resources.

Stakeholder Engagement 

In August 2016 before ZTC was very well known we were advised to seek support through the Academic Senate. We were able to get a resolution passed that supported our efforts and encouraged faculty to consider adopting OER in their courses. From here, we launched a workgroup consisting of key stakeholders, such as the bookstore, Dean of Online Education, Faculty Center, Disabled Students Programs and Services, OER Librarians, ASG student representative, and a Senior Research Analyst.

Marina Aminy, Dean of Online Education and Learning Resources, has been the key administrator to support this ever-evolving initiative on campus. We approached her for funding and through creativity and the assistance of our Vice Presidents we received sustained funding to support faculty who desire to convert their courses to ZTC. Her guidance to us early on was “turn no faculty away.” This meant that we needed to do everything possible to support faculty to move their courses over to ZTC, and the funding would follow from that. We all understood that a single faculty member adopting ZTC could mean an immediate savings of thousands of dollars for his/her students that same year, and in perpetuity in many cases.

We also have the support of the College President, Board of Trustees, and District. Alicia Zach and Carolyn Seaman have been designated as the “OER” Librarians and have played an instrumental role in assisting faculty in finding open sources for their courses. We could not have done it without them!

Student Awareness & Engagement 

  • ZTC Website for students and faculty.Open Your Textbook Not Your Wallet
  • The Marketing Department optimized search engines when students are searching for classes. They are able to track students and also created a separate ZTC information page with student testimonials on it.
  • ZTC Informational cards with the slogan “Open your textbook, not your wallet”. Cards are distributed across campus and are highly used by the counseling and outreach departments.
  • OER Posters hung around campus.
  • Online Class schedule (search menu item for ZTC).
  • Collaborate with ASG and have a student representative on the OER/ZTC Work Group.
  • We will conduct a survey with our Research Analyst to collect student feedback as well in the near future.


Jared Lessard, our Senior Research Analyst, examined ZTC versus non-ZTC outcomes including section cancel rates, retention rates, and success rates. Controlling for other factors (students’ gender, ethnicity, and financial need), the following was found:

Institutional Opportunity:

  • ZTC sections had half the class cancellation rates of non-ZTC sections (2.7% vs 5.5%)

Student Success Realized:

  • Retention rates were 3.2% higher than students in non-ZTC sections
  • Success rates were 3.4% higher than students in non-ZTC sections
  • 5 more successful completions/section
  • Students in online sections had success rates 7.0% higher than students in online non-ZTC sections

Faculty Support:

  • Overwhelmingly, faculty surveyed (83%) agreed that ZTC was effective in their courses. Only 6% disagreed.
  • Among non-adopters, 89% said that they either would (15%) or might (74%) use ZTC in the next 3 years.
  • Only 11% said that they definitely would not use ZTC

In Spring 2020, there are currently 185 courses offering ZTC, out of 940 total courses offered (20% of courses are offered with at least 1 ZTC section). There are currently 435 ZTC sections out of 2,463 sections total (18%). There are currently 12,433 enrollments in ZTC sections, out of 63,341 enrollments total (20%).

Lessons Learned 

  • It takes time! Some departments were NOT interested at the beginning but over time they became more open to the idea of OER and ZTC options.
  • Work with your library and Office of Institutional Research.
  • Get some managers behind you to rally for funding and resources.
  • Figure out the core reasons why departments can’t move, because in some cases, it may be indirect. For example, we discovered that an agreement between our Communications Department and their publishers ensured funding each year for their Forensics team. Once we were able to cover that cost, the department was willing to move their courses to ZTC, impacting 71 unique sections of COMM 1 in the first year alone!


OER/ZTC Work Group is part of the Student Success Committee and we work closely with the Promise Program. The Promise Program pays for the first two years of college for eligible students, including registration fees, book costs, health fee and ASB stamp to eligible students who meet the requirements of the program. ZTC courses increase the sustainability of the Promise Program, as textbook costs are a part of the budget. Administration has been supportive of our efforts since the beginning as ZTC pathways align with common campus goals that are part of Student Equity, Promise Program, and Guided Pathways.

Future Aspirations

Our goal for the future is to create more depth in ZTC offerings for the General Education pathway, as well as fully ZTC degrees and certificates. An obvious place to start is with our existing fully online programs, especially since we see the biggest gains for success and retention in these courses. We are also working with departments to create ZTC certificates and ZTC Career Technical Education pathways. We know that some departments are more eager than others and it takes time.