Policy & Advocacy

California’s Zero Textbook Cost Degree Program

Open Education

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law an unprecedented $115 million investment in the expansion of Zero Textbook Cost degrees and open educational resources at the state’s community colleges. Building on a successful pilot that concluded in 2019, the funding supports the development of degree and certificate pathways that students can complete without spending a single dollar on textbooks. The program is administered through the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and marks the single largest state investment in open educational resources to date.

California launched its statewide Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degree initiative in 2016 with a $5 million appropriation. The ZTC model aims to replace conventional textbooks with open educational resources and other no-cost materials in an entire degree or certificate program, so that students have a path to graduation clear of textbook costs.

California's investment has the potential to save students nearly $1 billion!

California’s ZTC pilot successfully developed 37 ZTC pathways encompassing 404 courses across 19 colleges, each pathway offering the potential to save students up to $700 per year according to the chancellor’s 2019 report.

Colleges involved in the pilot estimate that their ZTC programs will impact 23,373 students annually, which would achieve a cumulative savings of up to $42 million within three years—a more than 800% return on investment.

The sheer size of the California Community College system and disproportionate impact of textbooks in the overall cost of attendance makes Governor Newsom’s $115 million ZTC fund transformative for students. Based on the projected eightfold return on investment from the pilot, this investment could save community college students nearly $1 billion. Continuing the ZTC program is one proven step towards repairing a broken system of textbook costs. As Governor Newsom said at his January 8th budget press conference, “…we in California have an obligation to disrupt that entire system nationwide.”


The California Community Colleges is the largest higher education system in the nation, serving 2.1 million students annually across 115 colleges. California also has the nation’s lowest community college tuition rates at $46 per unit, along with the California College Promise Grant, which waives tuition for nearly half of all students. As a result, the cost of textbooks represents a disproportionately high amount of California community college students’ overall expenses—and can regularly exceed the cost of tuition itself (typical three-unit course would cost $138 for tuition, but textbooks can still cost $200 or more). With 7 in 10 community college students reporting being food or housing insecure, these savings make a critical difference in their ability to continue their studies.

A History of Success at California’s Community Colleges

  • Skyline College‘s ZTC program has continued to have an impact. Since Spring 2018, the program has engaged 79 unique faculty, 173 course sections, 17,480 students, and saved students $2.7 million.
  • Saddleback College‘s ZTC program has successfully reached around 20% of the college’s enrollments as of Fall 2020. The college also found that ZTC sections had half the class cancellation rate as non-ZTC sections.
  • Pasadena City College‘s ZTC program saved students $1.4 million during the 2018-19 school year alone and reported higher student success and retention rates across ZTC sections.

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