Every Penny Counts! Zero Cost Textbook Majors– Fiscally Prudent Solutions In Higher Education

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Brief Abstract

Escalating costs of education forces students to choose what they can afford to remain in University. Expensive textbooks should not hinder learning, completing courses and graduating. This session will address the challenges and opportunities of moving from traditional textbooks to Open Educational Resources to create a Zero Cost Textbook Major.  


Sandra Bozarth, MLIS has worked in various types of libraries over the years including a law library, men and women’s jail libraries, talking book library for the blind and disabled, public and academic libraries. Currently at California State University Bakersfield, she is an Associate Librarian and Chair for the Walter W. Stiern Library and Coordinator for Reference Services, Instructional Technology, and Affordable Learning Solutions & Textbook Affordability. She provides library research and instruction services for the Departments of Criminal Justice, Sociology, Psychology, and Ethnic Studies. Serves on many campus and library committees and enjoys representing the campus and the library on system-wide committees. She has presented at conferences and webinars, authored several scholarly articles and received multiple funding opportunities for textbook affordability initiatives in the amount of $244,000. Her current research interests include textbook affordability and the digital divide.
Dr. Elaine Correa is a Professor and Chair in the Department of Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies at California State University, Bakersfield. She earned her Ph.D. from McGill University, (Montreal, Canada). She holds membership in several Professional and Research Affiliations. She is a strong advocate for experiential learning, with special attention to designing opportunities for students to merge theory with practice. Dr. Correa was a Visiting Professor at the University of Verona, Italy where she worked on a research study addressing digital media and early childhood education. Dr. Correa has worked on many international research projects and has published several articles. She continues to participate in regional, national and international conferences, particularly with a focus on technology integration in learning.

Extended Abstract

Every Penny Counts!

Zero Cost Textbook Major – Fiscally Prudent Solutions In Higher Education

During the COVID-19 pandemic, financial stability is a growing concern of university students who seek education to secure economic stability. With the increasingly competitive, overly saturated marketplace of programs with multiple delivery formats and learning platforms, the choices that students need to make is deciding on whether they can afford to attend university to obtain a degree. In the United States of America, the cost of attending a 4-year public university has increased by 31% from 2007 to 2017 (U.S. Department of Education, 2019). Across the nation, degree completion rates, academic quality, and affordability are the three greatest challenges in higher education for students, their learning, and student academic success (Colvard et al., 2018). 

For many students, textbook affordability is a pressing issue relating directly to retention and graduation rates. Undeniably, a shift towards more reasonable choices with sustainable options is essential to ensure that a university education is financially conceivable for students. In this session, we discuss the challenges and opportunities that emerge when moving from traditional textbooks to Open Educational Resources (OER) for university course offerings. We focus on the challenges and benefits of this initiative and identify ways for faculty to start their own Textbook Affordability Initiatives.

At the forefront of our discussion is the question as to whether faculty are prepared to meet students where they are at and help students to advance and succeed. Are instructors prepared to implement a variety of alternative instructional delivery options to accommodate the needs of students who are financially strapped? What might be some of the limitations or concerns that faculty identify when asked to consider OER or Zero Cost Course Materials (ZCCM) for the courses they instruct? Are faculty prepared to increase their workloads without additional compensation in order to mitigate the challenges that students face in academe? These are some of the inter-related questions and concerns that must be addressed if universities are serious about reducing the price tag of learning via affordable learning solutions that eliminate textbook costs. 

Textbook Affordability Initiatives

The successful transition to alternative instructional formats, before and during the coronavirus crisis, is indicative of the value of the Textbook Affordability Initiatives and sustainability to mitigate the challenges that students and faculty encountered. OER/ZCCM and ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant courses have been easier to manage for students, especially during the recent pandemic. Research suggests that quality OER/ZCCM leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions and reduces the potential for financial debt (Farrow et al., 2015; Fischer et al., 2015). Studies indicate that OER/ZCCM can effectively support at-risk learners in their efforts to graduate (Winitzky-Stephens et al., 2017). Textbook Affordability Initiatives at our university, have increased partnerships with faculty and encouraged higher rates of integrating free, low or no cost texts into courses, that will make it easier for students to access their course materials on or before the first day of class.         

In 2018, one department at our university, participated in the Textbook Affordability Initiatives and saved students $58,120.40 in textbook costs by converting 14 classes into courses with OER and/or ZCCM. The financial benefits for students in this department was significant because the average wage of students in this field ranges from $9.00 - $12.00 per hour. For these students, every penny counts towards reducing their student debt upon completion of their degrees. It is well documented in the literature that high quality OER can lead to significant financial benefits for students and/or institutions, as well as reduce the potential for financial debt (Bliss et al., 2013; de los Arcos et al., 2014; Farrow et al., 2015; Fischer et al., 2015; Hilton et al., (2014). Additionally, several studies have indicated that OER can effectively support at-risk learners in their efforts to finish their studies (de los Arcos et al., 2014; Farrow et al., 2015; Winitzky-Stephens et al., 2017). 

Z Majors to Z Degrees

As the recipients of a university wide competition for the most affordable textbook adoptions, the winning department decided to use their $10,000 award to work on converting all Fall 2019 semester courses to OER/ZCCM. Currently, the department is offering all courses for the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 academic year using OER. Since converting both semesters to zero cost textbooks, this department is now the first and only zero cost for course materials (ZCCM) major at our university (Z-Major). The response to this initiative from students has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Three options have been employed by the library and Textbook Affordability Initiatives to offer affordable textbook options to our students: 1.) the use of open access, 2.) ebooks subscriptions and, 3) low cost textbooks through the campus bookstore. However, there is the perception that moving towards OER/ZCCM will be substantial work for both the transfer from a textbook to OER/ZCCM, as well as the continual updating of sources from semester to semester. These continued workload concerns must be considered and weighted against the overall cost savings of retention to graduation of students, as well as the benefits of access to course materials immediately, during the normal academic term, or a crisis. In addition, the advantages of OER/ZCCM in narrowing the economic divide created by escalating textbook costs is a pervasive concern that ensures equity in the distribution of resources for all learners. 

Faculty & Student Training to Support Access and Satisfaction

As ebooks and OER become more available, both students and faculty will need to learn how to implement this new technology inside and outside of the classroom. The training involved to ensure that faculty are cognizant of how to search for ebooks, retool OER, and post these materials for their students, necessitates that any new technologies that are required for accessing materials has been provided for the teaching faculty, in advance of moving towards Z-degrees and Z-majors.

Challenges confronting students involve the unfamiliarity with devices, software and/or ebook features, lack of access to devices, connectivity, and IT support. The library and the Textbook Affordability Initiatives have been working together to help resolve the lack of digital literacy. The main project is to partner with faculty, integrating OER/ZCCM texts into courses, making them easily available to students. Providing workshops, one-on-one assistance and more campus IT support has helped address student digital literacy needs. Providing more devices and WiFi hotspots to connect higher numbers of students with continued support for quality, and low/no-cost resources are needed to further mitigate a growing “digital divide”. The efforts of the Textbook Affordability Initiatives demonstrate the feasibility and sustainability of practical solutions that can mitigate unequal access to resources and foster the potential for accelerating student learning and growth.  

Session Outcomes:

This session will include major take-aways that will encourage attendees to begin the process of starting their own Textbook Affordability Initiatives or build upon and expand their textbook programs that save students money as, Every Penny Counts! Textbook access on or before the first day of classes ensures equity in the distribution of educational resources.

Interactivity Plan: 

Time will be allocated for an interactive demonstration with a question and answer period. Handouts, spreadsheets and templates will be distributed and posted to assist with the creating or expanding of Textbook Affordability Initiatives and/or pilot projects undertaken by the attendees at their own campuses. Presenter contact information will be provided for direct contact after the conference.


Slides, handouts and links used will be provided during the presentation and posted on the conference website, if possible.


Bliss, T., et al. (2013b). An OER COUP: College teacher and student perceptions of

open educational resources. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 17(1), 1–25.

Colvard, N. B., et al. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various

student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education30(2), 262-276.

de los Arcos, B., et al. (2014). Adapting the curriculum: How K-12 teachers perceive the role of Open

Educational Resources. Journal of Online Learning Research, 2(1) 23-40.

de los Arcos, B., et al. (2014). OER Evidence Report 2013-2014. OER Research Hub.

Farrow, R., et al. (2015). Impact of OER use on teaching and learning: data from OER Research Hub

(2013-2014). British Journal of Educational Technology46(5), 972-976.

Fischer, L., et al. A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning

outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education27(3), 159-172.

Hilton, J., et al. (2013). The adoption of open educational resources by one community college math

department. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(4), 37–50.

Hilton, J., et al. (2014). Cost-savings ahieved in two semesters through the adoption of open educational

resources. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(2).

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education

Statistics, 2017.

Winitzky-Stephens, J. R., et al. (2017). Open educational resources and student sourse outcomes:

A multilevel analysis. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning18(4).