The California Zero Textbook Cost(ZTC)  Degree Initiative was launchedZTC Logo 2017 through a Governor’s budget allocation in spring 2016 with the goal of reducing costs for community college students by implementing associate transfer degrees and career technical education certificates where all textbook costs have been eliminated through the adoption of alternative instructional materials and methodologies, including open educational resources (OER).

Grants were awarded to 26 colleges to implement 36 ZTC degree pathways The following stories are from students who have been directly impacted by this program.

Table of Contents

San Jose State University OER Student Advocate
Westhills College Lemoore OER Student Advocate
Grossmont College’s OER Internship Program
College of the Canyon’s Zero Textbook Cost Degree Program

San Jose State University OER Student Advocate

Jenifer Vang, Student OER AdvocateJenifer Vang is a biology major in her senior year at San Jose State University.  She is one of eight California state university and community college students selected to launch the statewide OER Student Advocacy Network.  The goal of the network is to promote the use of OER on campuses and develop a toolkit to train other students in OER advocacy. 

Tell us about any barriers that you’ve encountered or made it difficult for you to stay on track towards graduation.

I grew up as a first-generation student from a really big immigrant family. My dad told me in high school that he wouldn’t be able to financially support me so I would have to search for scholarships or take out loans to attend college.  One of the biggest barriers though was that my whole life has revolved around my family so moving to San Jose State to pursue higher education meant I had to learn how to pursue my education without worrying about what’s going on at home or what I should be doing to help the family. That was really hard for me.

One of my goals as I went into university was to avoid or keep my loans to a minimum. That wasn’t possible because it was so expensive and I had to use all my financial aid to just cover bills and tuition.  I was looking for a job on-campus when I learned about the Affordable Learning Solutions (ALS) student ambassador position. I worked really hard preparing for my interview and found out it was a great resource for students. I had just moved off-campus and was realizing that it was hard for students to have access to resources such as library materials off-campus.

Have you taken a class where the professor used free or open educational resources?

I’ve taken classes where there weren’t any required textbooks but it wasn’t explicitly stated anywhere that it was OER. I found out after I had shown up on the first day of class.  The professor went over the green sheet and syllabus and whether they would require a textbook or homework system. That’s when students learn about the additional costs for a course.

When you had a class that didn’t require a textbook, did the teacher talk to you about the fact that they had chosen not to use a textbook?

Yeah so in that class the professor just gave lectures and relied on assignments more. There weren’t any reading assignments but it more writing assignments and research assignments where we had to look for the resources ourselves.

A lot of students had trouble understanding what was required for the assigned papers. I actually had to look for an open-source writing guide to write and format that scientific paper. So, I feel that having an open-source textbook would have been nice but instead this professor chose to do without.  There were a lot of students who struggled and were not happy with how the class was run. I feel that if the professor had incorporated some sort of OER to explain the format of the paper or an example of a literature review that he wanted us to write, it would’ve helped a lot.

Can you tell me about some of the work you’ve done as the Affordable Learning Solutions (ALS) Student Ambassador at San Jose State University?

I started out just organizing and gathering all of the ALS data on team grants into a spreadsheet so we can search for professors, courses, number of sections that were impacted by the grants.  Afterwards, we focused on creating fliers to help both faculty and students learn what they can do with OER, about courses using OER, and the grants that are available. We also updated the website to add new resources and compiled a handout for students to learn about textbook cost savings available to them through ALS and the library. 

This last year, we decided to replace “Open Education Week” with “Textbook Affordability Week” so it was more student focused. We held a “Don’t go #textbookbroke” workshop where we went over how to get access to those resources and also provided food because we know that money spent on textbooks affects how much students can eat.  We hold all our events at the library where there is a lot of food traffic and we incorporate food or something else to draw students in.

How do you let students know about resources that they could use even though their professor may be using an expensive commercial textbook?

I can’t actually recommend textbooks for the students to use but can only point them to websites or resources that we already have.  Using their student ID card, they can get books on course reserves or free ebooks on our library list. We also tell them to look out for the Zero-Cost Course Materials designation when they’re signing up for classes.

Tell me how you’re going to use the OER knowledge and expertise that you’ve developed to help other students and staff

Through the OER Student Advocacy Network we are developing a toolkit to train other students to support the OER programs on their campus and promote awareness of OER to student groups. The toolkit will provide an interactive checklist, an inventory of OER usage on campus, what the student body thinks about OER, and how they feel the cost of textbooks is affecting them and their lifestyle. We hope that students will take an active role in talking to faculty members about OER, looking for OER for their own courses, and getting really interested in what they’re learning.  If we can show that an OER resource is improving student learning then this can be a game changer for faculty’s opinion of OER.

What is the greatest impact that OER usage can have on students?

I think it really has to do with reducing cost but it also can help students take a more active role in what they’re learning and what they’re passionate about. I’ve learned how to talk to faculty members that aren’t even in the biology field and aren’t my science professors. I’ve been able to point them to OER or other resources they can consider to help their students. The journey of OER advocacy has helped me in my own classes, and allowed me to help other students and even faculty members. We’re building this network of collaboration and sharing, an exchange of knowledge, that you couldn’t really get without OER.

San Jose State University In collaboration with nearby industries and communities, SJSU faculty and staff are dedicated to achieving the university’s mission as a responsive institution of the state of California: To enrich the lives of its students, to transmit knowledge to its students along with the necessary skills for applying it in the service of our society, and to expand the base of knowledge through research and scholarship.

Michelson 20MM Foundation supports and invests in leading-edge entrepreneurs, technologies, and initiatives with the potential to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to meaningful careers. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned inventor and spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson, and his wife, Alya Michelson. Learn more at

OER Student Advocacy Network was launched in February 2019 under the leadership of Dr. Barbara Illowsky, De Anza College professor, and Dean James Glapa-Grossklag, College of the Canyons, with support from Michelson 20MM foundation.  This project aims to develop and empower current higher education students in California to become effective advocates for OER through peer-to-peer mentoring in public speaking, writing formal resolutions, and developing promotional campaigns.

Westhills College Lemoore OER Student Advocate

Tim MaldonadoAfter twenty-five years, Timothy Maldonado returned to school last year to better his job prospects. Now in his second year at West Hills College Lemoore (WHCL) in California, he is majoring in Sociology and is active in several clubs on campus to assist students struggling with food insecurity and disabilities. Tim understands the challenge of balancing college costs with family needs and has experienced firsthand the advantage of taking classes where the instructor has replaced expensive commercial textbooks with OER textbooks.

“The textbooks are free, which is a big benefit for me because I’m a grandparent, I’m a parent, so all the money that I’m saving on textbooks helps me with my house, with bills, transportation, and childcare.”

Tim was one of eight students selected to join the recently launched OER Student Advocacy Network which aims to develop and empower current higher education students in California to become effective advocates for OER. The initial team is composed of students from California’s community colleges and state universities who have directly experienced the benefits of OER at their campus and have expressed an interest in advocacy to other colleges and universities.  

OER Benefits and Challenges

Tim first heard about OER in spring 2018 when his Sociology instructor, Dr. Vera Kennedy, was writing an OER textbook for their course.  

“Before I became aware of OER courses through my mentor, I had already dropped several classes because I couldn’t afford a $235 book. I have kids, I have a wife, I have responsibilities that a lot of the younger students don’t have.”

Dr. Kennedy explained to the students that they would not have to purchase an expensive textbook as she was in the process of writing their textbook. All of Tim’s sociology classes at WHCL have used OER. This has allowed him to download and build a digital library of open textbooks pertinent to his discipline of sociology. He plans to use this library for future reference as he continues his studies.

One of the challenges Tim faced as a returning student is the technology skills that are now a requirement for applying and attending college; this includes the use of OER textbooks that are online. He reports that he is not technologically inclined:

“One of the barriers that I’ve faced coming back to school after so long is technology. Open Educational Resources are online, it’s technology, it forces me to address what would be a hindrance in my education.”

Last semester, Tim was asked to give a presentation to the state Chancellor about OER on Michelson 20MM Logocampus. He was excited to share his experiences and how it has helped him to reduce his work hours and be successful in college. After the presentation, he was asked about his interest in a new OER internship position.  With the generous funding of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, the OER Student Advocacy Network was founded and two students from WHCL were chosen:

“We now have two OER advocates at WHCL, myself and Ashley Chavez. It has given me the opportunity to learn more about the full benefits of OER and how to pass that knowledge on to other students.”

OER Student Advocacy Network

The student network was launched last month at the Beyond Textbook Affordability Summit, co-sponsored by the California State University’s Affordable Learning Solutions and the Community College Chancellor Office’s Zero Textbook Cost Degree project. Under the leadership of Dr. Barbara Illowsky, De Anza College, and Dean James Glapa-Grossklag, College of the Canyons, a kick-off meeting was held and the students participated in a panel at the summit.

Goals for the students include: developing a toolkit for student OER advocates, improving their ability to advocate for OER awareness on their own campuses, and enlisting other students and student governments to promote OER to faculty. In addition, the students will speak at academic conferences and submit articles to newspapers, with the aim of encouraging other institutions to engage their students in OER initiatives.

This project will also empower students with coaching and mentoring on skills such as public speaking, writing formal resolutions, and developing promotional campaigns. Overall, this experience will engage and develop future leaders and place them firmly within the OER advocacy world.

What’s next?

Besides participating in the OER Student Advocacy network, Tim is also planning to reach out to faculty at his college who are not currently using OER. He plans to ask them about the relevance of their current textbook to their students’ lives. A majority of WHCL students’ families are immigrants or farm laborers with limited financial resources. One of the questions he would like to ask these instructors:

“As an instructor, I would believe that you would want to do everything possible to help students succeed in their educational dreams. If OER was available for you when you were beginning your degree would you have wanted … that opportunity?

In addition to reducing costs, Tim has found that his instructors using OER are more specific about what he needs to read and understand in the textbook before taking a quiz or writing a paper. Previously, he might have read pages of information that were not pertinent to what he needs to learn but now he can zero in on key concepts. He can always go back and read the extra material after he has completed an assignment.


Timothy Maldonado is majoring in Sociology at West Hills College Lemoore and plans to transfer to a California State University to complete his Bachelor’s degree. He hopes to use this degree to work in the community to improve the lives of those struggling with addiction and other difficult life situations.

Dr. Vera Kennedy is a Sociology and Teacher Education professor at West Hills College Lemoore and an adjunct faculty at Fresno State University. She is a longtime adopter and advocate of open education and has authored two open textbooks.

West Hills College Lemoore is a community college located in the heart of California’s Central Valley and is designated as a Hispanic-serving institution. Awarded both an OER Degree grant from Achieving the Dream and a California Zero Textbook Cost Degree grant, they also co-lead the Technical Assistance for the twenty-three community colleges in the California initiative.

Michelson 20MM Foundation supports and invests in leading-edge entrepreneurs, technologies, and initiatives with the potential to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to meaningful careers. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned inventor and spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson, and his wife, Alya Michelson. Learn more at

OER Student Advocacy Network was launched in February 2019 under the leadership of Dr. Barbara Illowsky, De Anza College professor, and Dean James Glapa-Grossklag, College of the Canyons, with support from Michelson 20MM foundation.  This project aims to develop and empower current higher education students in California to become effective advocates for OER through peer-to-peer mentoring in public speaking, writing formal resolutions, and developing promotional campaigns.

Grossmont College’s OER Internship Program

Carlos and Edwin are the first students to be selected for the newly created paid OER internships funded by the Career Technical Education division of Grossmont College in El Cajon, California. They also work as peer advisors in the Career Center and at the High School Bridge Program held each summer to welcome new students to campus. They were chosen based on their demonstrated ability to work collaboratively with others on campus to improve student equity and achievement. Like many of their fellow students, both Carlos and Edwin have experienced the negative effects of expensive college textbooks.   

Student Intern Edwin Hernadez

Edwin: “It’s hard to even pay for books while attending college … I’ve had to look for various resources available from EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs and Services) and the Black Student Union’s UMOJA. Sometimes there hasn’t been enough voucher money to cover the costs … I’ve had to take pictures on my phone of someone else’s book.”

Student Intern Carlos Espinoza

Carlos: “The amount of the voucher doesn’t always cover all my books … Before I found about OER, I’d try to find a friend who bought the textbook to study with or I’d borrow it from the library for two or three hours to get by.”


They began their OER internships in summer 2018, learning about OER through online and in-person interviews with experts and educators at their college and around the state.  They have read articles on OER, met with faculty who have adopted OER, and reviewed videos about OER to gain a full understanding of the benefits and challenges for students and faculty. Carlos and Edwin also serve on the OER/ZTC (Zero Textbook Cost) Workgroup. This workgroup, composed of faculty, administrators, staff, and students meet monthly to advocate for OER and manage the development of their Zero Textbook Cost Degree initiative made possible through a grant from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.  

Recently, they began working with a math instructor in the ZTC Workgroup to help foster more awareness about OER within the math department. This led to conversations with additional math instructors, but the instructors’ concerns about replacing the online homework system available through a commercial publisher remained a barrier to OER adoption.

Region X OER Summit

In November, the successful Region X OER Summit was held at GrossmontGrossmont OER Summit 2018 with Edwin and Carlos helping with the planning and execution of the all-day event.  The summit featured a keynote with James Glapa-Grossklag, Dean at College of the Canyons and co-lead of the ZTC Degree Technical Assistance program; a student panel with them and Natalie Miller, a College of the Canyons’ graduate currently attending Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Delmar Larsen, Executive Director of Libretexts; a faculty panel; and OER adoption showcases from colleges around the region. Representatives from 10 colleges attended the event.

One highlight was when math faculty from San Diego’s Miramar college shared information about how they had adopted OER and the open source MyOpenMath online homework system for their introductory courses. This presentation helped alleviate the concerns of the Grossmont math department instructors who now plan to adopt OER for all their introductory math courses over the coming year.  

Carlos: “It was a huge accomplishment”  

Edwin added: “We can’t force faculty to adopt OER … but we can remind them about the economics for students … food insecurity and equity issues around the cost of textbooks.”

OER Impact From Students’ Perspective

Edwin:   “It’s obvious that saving money is a huge impact … Equity is a huge issue on many campuses because not everyone has enough money or access to resources. OER helps to put everyone on an equal footing so they can further their education.”

Carlos:  “For me, I have seen a huge increase in grades and interaction in my classes that use OER … I took the “Introduction to Sociology” class last year and we started with 35 students but ended the semester with about 10-15.  This semester I’m taking “Marriage and Family” from the same teacher but with an OER textbook.  He had to request a larger classroom on the first day to accommodate all the students … he was still able to keep us all interacting and engaged … I didn’t see any students dropping out and no one seemed to be struggling … everyone had experiences they could share.”

Coming Up Next

This spring semester, Carlos and Edwin will join the newly formed OER Student Advocates team, which will feature 8 students from California community colleges and state universities.  The advocates will work with students from other colleges and universities throughout the state to advocate for OER and policies to reduce equity gaps. They will develop a toolkit to share information about open education and the most effective strategies to advocate for OER adoption to increase student learning and reduce equity gaps.

Meanwhile back on campus, they are planning to heighten awareness of the cost of textbooks by inviting students to share how much they paid for textbooks during welcome week,  highlighting OER classes where students don’t have to purchase materials. They also plan to run a “Thank You OER Faculty” campaign using poster boards to express gratitude to the teachers who have already adopted OER for their classes.  These boards will include course numbers and section identifiers to help students find and enroll in these classes. They are already compiling a reader based on their OER research to pass on to Grossmont student interns who come after them.

Edwin: “We plan to make it into a book.  It should make it easier for them to learn about OER and continue the work to advocate for OER.”

Carlos: “Next fall, we are hoping to attend a conference out of state where we will present our work and continue to learn more about open education … We will take this knowledge to our universities when we transfer.”


Carlos Espinoza, Vice-president of the Associated Student Government at Grossmont and president of the Interclub council helps coordinate efforts between clubs on campus including sharing important campus information such as open education opportunities. He has a double major in Criminal Justice and Sociology.

Edwin Hernandez, Student Trustee and member of the Associated Student Government has majors in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Grossmont and International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCR), Justice Systems department, at San Diego State University where he is cross-enrolled.

Grossmont Community College is a 2018 recipient of the California Community Colleges Zero Textbook Cost Degree Grant Initiative.  Over the past year, they have developed two-year Geography and Sociology degree pathways, in which faculty have eliminated all textbook costs through the adoption and creation of OER and zero-cost materials.

The OER Internship program was launched in August of 2018 by Dave Dillon, a professor and counselor at Grossmont College with support from Javier Ayala (Dean of CTE/Workforce Development) and Renee Nasori (Student Development Services Supervisor).  It was conceived to give students a more active role in advocacy for open educational resources (OER) and practices at the college and statewide.


College of the Canyons’ Zero Textbook Cost Degree Program

Caroline is a full-time student at College of the Canyons with a double major in Water Systems Technology and Physics.  The following is her story of perseverance over five years and how the Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degrees helped reduce her costs and streamline her pathway to graduation this spring.  

Textbook Cost Impact

Starting college right out of high school, Caroline began as a part-time student while supporting herself.  She felt isolated and was unaware of the different programs that provide financial and other assistance to students. Her studies were interrupted multiple times over the last five years as she and her family struggled to overcome financial challenges.  The cost of school and textbooks were a real challenge for her; she recalls how one time she and three friends purchased an especially expensive textbook and attempted to share it over the semester. 

“It was like $300 and we were all part-time students working part-time jobs and not making a lot of money so that was like the best option for us but obviously it’s so hard splitting a book four ways.”

Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Pathways

Due to her family’s financial problems, she was forced to drop out and work full-time to help support them. She saved enough money to return and because the  Water Systems Technology major has become a Zero-Textbook-Cost pathway at College of the Canyons, it is making it possible for her to complete her studies without incurring additional textbook debt.

“With Water Technology, I’m always really happy to take those classes because I know I’m never going to have to pay $300 for a textbook. It’s just a huge relief and it supports me so much in going back to school.”

The faculty in Water Systems Technology provide the open textbooks at no charge to students in a PDF format. In fact, her teacher emailed the textbook directly to students so no one had to wait. Caroline found it so much easier to learn because the faculty helped write the textbook and was able to explain everything clearly which isn’t always the case.

Closing the Equity Gap

Since Caroline has returned full-time to college, she now realizes how many faculty and staff at the college are dedicated to helping students succeed and really care.  She didn’t realize this when she first started college and believes that many other students just like her are unaware as well. If more students realized all the supports available such as ZTC degree programs, it could really improve their ability to stay in school and complete their studies.

“If I had known that there was a whole major degree where I didn’t have to pay for textbooks I would have felt so much more supported.  I probably would have stayed in school and gone full-time because I was going part-time to be able to afford all those. “


Carolyn Trujillo, is a member of the Associated Student Government and has a double major in Water Systems Technology and Physics.  She is transferring to California State University next fall to complete her bachelor’s degree in Physics.  She plans to pursue a career in Water Management upon graduation.

College of the Canyons is a 2017 and 2018 recipient of the California Community Colleges Zero Textbook Cost Degree Grant Initiative.  They have developed a Water Systems Technology certificate and a Child Development degree in which faculty have eliminated all textbook costs through the adoption and creation of OER and zero-cost materials.  The college is also a co-coordinator of the ZTC Degree Technical Assistance program which is lead by Dean James Glapa-Grossklag.