Allow public access to Zero Textbook Costs classes


Vanessa Williams/Special to The Union

California Senate Bill SB 1359 was approved on Sept. 13, 2016, concerning Open Educational Resources in California’s community colleges. This bill went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and imposed a mandate on California community colleges, requiring them to publicly display which of their courses had zero textbook costs. 

Zero Textbook Costs (ZTC) is an aspect of the Open Educational Resources (OER) program where professors provide textbooks at no charge. After implementing the OER program, El Camino College has made great progress in increasing the number of class sections that offer ZTC. However, ECC is not properly displaying which classes offer these open educational resources.

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest said that affected schools are required to inform students on courses that offer free or low-cost resources by highlighting or marking a symbol on each course to make it known. However, on ECC’s website, only students that are currently enrolled in ECC can search for ZTC courses when they register for classes. Prospective students have no access to this information. 

The Editorial Board for the Union Newspaper urges El Camino College to honor California Senate Bill SB 1359 by making the information for their Zero Textbook Costs classes accessible to the public. 


What the school has already done

Mary McMillan, Digital Resources Librarian and campus OER Liaison said that El Camino College has been working to adopt Open Educational Resources in school, including zero textbook costs since 2017. According to an ECC President’s News dated April 20, 2020, their grant from the Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 greatly facilitated their adoption of Open Educational Resources. 

The Libguides website for ECC goes into further detail stating that between Fall 2018 and Spring 2020, ECC had 43 faculty members who adopted OER. There were a reported 180 class sections that adopted OER resources, serving 5,968 students which saved them $839,000. 

The Textbook Affordability Act, or AB798, was passed in the California legislature as an incentive program that would provide grants to schools that implemented open educational resources such as zero textbook resources. McMillan said that there are now 275 ZTC class sections. 


El Camino College still has not met ZTC requirements

El Camino College has not made access to which classes use zero textbook costs public. McMillan said that only an ECC student can access information on ZTC when they are using the course schedule builder tool. State mandate SB 1359 requires this information to be publicly available on the online version of a school’s course schedule with ZTC courses marked. 


Students on Scholarship could better stretch their resources

Students who receive a scholarship may have limited resources to use on textbooks, even after fee coverage. The resources that they have can go further as they can plan their schedule knowing that they will still be able to access high-quality materials without having to pay for them. 

According to an article from the Community College Consortium for OER website, “Student outcomes data from grantees was shared showing grade improvements across all ZTC courses but with Pell-eligible students’ grades improving at double the rate of all students.” Some students will try to do without textbooks in a course if they can not afford them, even if it means letting their grades lower, some scholarships require students to keep a certain grade point average to keep it. 

Another side of this issue is that lower-income students may decide to buy textbooks at a high price that excludes them from purchasing other necessities. For example, one student from the OER Student Advocacy Network said that she had to choose between paying for eyeglasses and paying for textbooks. What good is a textbook if you can not see properly? She bought the eyeglasses but felt, “like she didn’t belong in college.”


 Prospective students will not have to worry about which classes to sign up for with public access to ZTC

Currently, only students who are already enrolled in ECC can see which courses have zero textbook costs during the schedule building process. If ECC makes their ZTC class information publicly and easily accessible, this could facilitate enrollment. Students would not have to worry about fees for materials after tuition. 

El Camino College has made efforts to incorporate open educational resources but has not met the requirement of the state mandate to mark the class sections in the digital course schedule that have no zero textbook costs. The Editorial Board encourages ECC to implement this method, making zero textbook costs information publicly available to students, registering for classes and registering for enrollment.