Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a historic investment in developing Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degrees as part of his 2021-2022 State Budget proposal. The $115 million fund would scale up the successful ZTC model at California community colleges, which eliminates textbook costs along entire degree and certificate pathways by leveraging open educational resources. As the Governor enters final negotiations with legislative leadership ahead of the annual budget deadline, nearly a billion dollars in projected student savings hangs in the balance. SPARC has joined the coalition calling to fully fund this proposal.
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.
Successful Zero Textbook Cost Degree Pilot
California first invested in the Zero Textbook Cost degree model through a $5 million pilot funded in 2016. The program supported the development of 37 ZTC degree pathways including 404 ZTC courses across 19 community colleges, most of which were rolled out in early 2019. A report from the chancellor’s office released in June 2019 estimates that each program had the potential to save students enrolled in ZTC programs $700 per year. Grantees estimate that collectively, their ZTC degree and certificate programs will impact 23,373 students annually and project cumulative savings of $42 million within three years of implementation—a more than 800% return on investment.
- 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.
Impact of Governor Newsom’s Proposed 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 proposed $115 million ZTC fund potentially transformative for students. Based on the projected eightfold return on investment from the pilot, the fully funded ZTC proposal 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.”