Thomas Edison State University (TESU) has saved students more than $1.6 million this year with Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses.
ZTC courses harness Open Educational Resources (OER) and other no-cost alternatives to replace standard textbooks. OER materials reside in the public domain – or are openly licensed – and encompass a rich array of readings, articles, case studies and multimedia components like videos and podcasts that are integrated into the online courses.
“At Thomas Edison our mission is to deliver high-quality education that is accessible to a wide range of students, and, as such, we are always striving to add programs while eliminating unnecessary costs that can drive students away from earning their degree.” said Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, TESU president. “The ZTC initiative is an outstanding example of how we are achieving this goal by wiping away the cost barrier of expensive textbooks and other related material.”
According to a US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) study, 65 percent of students in the United States polled in 2020 did not purchase their required textbooks even though 90 percent of them said they were concerned that not doing so would have a negative impact on their education. At TESU, students registering for ZTC courses know they won’t be hit with surprise access fees or any other expenses for course materials.
“The University’s Center for Learning and Technology began experimenting and running pilots with creative textbook solutions and OER initiatives for courses as far back as 2010,” according to Matt Cooper, associate vice president for Organizational Learning and chief technology officer. “Those early pilots gave us experience in wrestling with the challenges of incorporating OER and ZTC resources into courses at scale and taught us how to ask the right questions during the course design phase. We formally launched the program in 2016.”
Currently, the University offers 94 courses that are fully ZTC (65 undergraduate and 29 graduate), with several more currently in development. There are also 14 courses with course material costs of $25 or less, and another 120 courses with course material costs between $26 and $75. However, some of the science lab courses still require the purchase of lab kits.
“While we cannot eliminate the need for the lab kits due to the specialized requirements of these courses, we have started converting textbooks for these courses to OER in order to eliminate that portion of the cost for courses,” Cooper explained.
According to a report from the USPG, students spend an average of $153 per course for textbooks. Over the past decade, the price of textbooks has risen more than four times the rate of inflation, according to USPIRG.
“The predominance of students choosing to forgo the purchase of the costly, but essential, materials required for their course is a major barrier to their success,” Cooper explained. “They will struggle to complete their assignments if access to the readings is unavailable, or if they rely on outdated earlier editions. Because ZTC courses use OER and other openly licensed materials, students are able to retain their books for future use rather than selling them or losing access when rental periods end. This is a major advantage for them as they move forward through their program and while they consider further education post-graduation.”
The University had originally projected a savings closer to $900,000 for this year, but higher-than-expected enrollment in these courses helped drive the savings higher. The student interest comes from many directions. Military students deployed around the world don’t have to worry about receiving their materials for the start of their courses, especially in remote areas. Additionally, because late registration ends right before courses start, academic advisors can recommend ZTC courses for those students registering late so they have immediate access to course materials. And finally, many students rely on financial aid for the purchase of course materials. If there is a delay in the disbursement of the aid, it often means a delay in accessing course materials. Students have recognized the benefit of having access to course materials without needing to wait for those funds.
Moving forward, the University intends to continue to expand the ZTC initiative by evaluating all high-enrollment courses for OER when they are scheduled for revisions and updates and by employing an OER review prior to the development of any new courses.