Editor’s note: This story is the second installment in a series of articles contributed by journalism students at California State University, Sacramento.
A proposal in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020-21 budget would add $10 million to create more Zero-Textbook-Cost (ZTC) certificates at the state’s community colleges.
College textbooks are generally expensive since publishers release new editions each year, according to Alex Neal, CEO of Campusbooks.com, as quoted in the New York Post. Publishers do not make a profit from the used book market and the new edition sometimes voids the previous edition sold at an overpriced rate.
Many community colleges offer some classes that use “open education resources” to reduce costs. These resources allow educators to freely use and reproduce course readings, tests, videos, and full textbooks without fear of violating copyright restrictions.
A state grant in the 2016-17 budget provided $5 million to California community colleges to develop zero-textbook-cost associate degrees and certificates. Other state funding has gone toward developing additional open education resources.
Currently, Cosumnes River College offers some zero-textbook courses, but the college did not apply for the 2016-17 grant to create entire degree programs without textbook costs, academic officials said.
Several Cosumnes River College professors expressed interest in expanding the college’s zero-textbook-cost offerings.
“Whatever we can do to make school more affordable, do it” said Lesley Gale, an English professor at Cosumnes River College.
Her director reached out to her department to see if any professors were interested in teaching their courses without the need of books. Gale agreed to be a participant by using open education resources.
There are organizations like Creative Commons that have created textbooks and put them online. However, Gale encountered a few barriers while converting her existing lesson plans.
“The biggest issue for me, (is that) authors of color are not well-represented,” she said.
Gregory Beyrer, professor and Academic Senate president at Cosumnes River College, spoke about the ZTC program, saying, “there was not enough interest at this college to apply for that grant when it was first announced”.
Beyrer did however go on to say that Cosumnes River College has a list of classes that are zero-textbook-cost classes, and that the district has set up a ZTC Committee that oversees future involvement in the ZTC program.
Ryan Erickson-Kulas, a program officer for the Michelson 20mm Foundation, which focuses on making higher education more affordable, said that the high price of textbooks for certain programs can steer kids away from something they may be interested in.
The Michelson 20mm Foundation helped put forth the policy idea of renewing funds for the ZTC degree program.
In regards to how schools can become part of the ZTC program, Erickson-Kulas said, “Schools submit applications for grants and then are given money to build out a degree program… Using biology as a hypothetical, they will build out classroom material where a student can major in biology without ever having to pay for a textbook.”
It can be difficult to find course materials that both serve required learning needs and are not under copyright. In order to convert a class, professors have to do extensive research and analysis. Another concern is paying professors for their efforts.
Students have reacted to the few classes that already offer free textbooks with a sense of great relief.
Cosumnes River College instructor Shay McNee said, “My whole class applauded, once.”
Julian Davila, a freshman English major, said that he often tries different retailers to get books for the best price, including Chegg, Amazon, or a college bookstore. He calculates his spending to be around $175 each semester.
“I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing without programs [help], but I would make it work,” Davila said.
This story is part of a collaborative project between the Elk Grove Citizen and seniors in the journalism program at California State University, Sacramento. For more information about that program, visit www.Facebook.com/SacStateJournalism.