The Movement Toward “Zero Textbook Cost” Initiatives in Higher Education

Students are sometimes faced with a choice: pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks and other course materials or pay their rent and feed their families. 

It doesn’t help that the average total cost of books and supplies for a first-year college student is about $1,200. In reality, students spend only roughly $285 a year on course materials, which means there’s a gap between what they need and what they can afford, leaving some at a disadvantage from the get-go. 

Recognizing the financial pressure on students in higher education, institutions are stepping up. They’re launching initiatives across the U.S. offering zero textbook cost (ZTC) options.

Labster, the world's leading edtech platform for virtual labs and interactive and immersive science, is proud to be among the solutions partnering with institutions working toward ZTC initiatives. 

The Rise of Zero Textbook Cost Initiatives

Across the U.S., a growing number of institutions and states have answered the call for educational equity by adopting ZTC programs. 

For example, the City University of New York (CUNY) designates specific courses as “ZTC/OER,” allowing students to engage in their studies without the stress of additional costs. Similarly, Iowa State University (ISU) supports instructors in adopting and creating zero-cost resources, showing a commitment to reducing the financial strain on students.

Statewide initiatives, such as California’s investment of $115 million into the "Zero-Textbook-Cost Degree Grant (ZTC) Program," show how impactful this approach can be. This investment sets a precedent for other states to follow. 

ZTC Impact on Student Success and Equity

By eliminating the cost of textbooks, ZTC programs enhance the affordability and accessibility of educational resources, ensuring that every student has the materials they need from day one. This level playing field is essential for students who might otherwise have to delay purchasing textbooks or forego them entirely, putting them at a disadvantage.

Here are some more examples of institutions that have implemented ZTC and what the impact has been: 

  • Skyline College: Since Spring 2018, the ZTC program has engaged 79 unique faculty, 173 course sections, 17,480 students, and saved students $2.7 million.
  • Saddleback College: The college found that ZTC sections had half the class cancellation rate as non-ZTC sections.
  • Pasadena City College: Their 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.

By ensuring equitable access to educational resources, these programs are instrumental in fostering a more inclusive and successful academic environment.

Labster's Role in Supporting ZTC Initiatives

Labster has partnered with Openstax, the educational technology initiative of Rice University that provides students and educators with free learning resources to support teaching and learning in K12 and higher education to bring open educational resources (OERs) to students everywhere. When its immersive labs are integrated with an OpenStax text, Labster completes an affordable, high-quality science learning experience that is accessible to learners of all backgrounds.

Further, Labster is proud to offer flexible pricing that can meet the needs of multiple educators, departments, or even colleges and universities that can extend for multiple terms or years. We believe in reducing the burden on students, so we encourage institutions to work with us on a budget they can afford. 

Aligning with the mission of equitable learning, Labster is proven to improve pass rates and decrease DFW rates. Labster partnered with LXD Research to evaluate the product's impact on student learning at a large university in Texas. These graphics summarize the results of this exploratory research study examining the impact of Labster use on student outcomes for courses taken during Fall 2022 and Spring 2023.

Labster DFW rates
Labster quiz scores

Final Thoughts

With textbook and other course material costs being a huge barrier, there’s a positive move towards ZTC initiatives. The adoption of ZTC/OER programs across the U.S. highlights a commitment to removing financial barriers to education and fostering an environment where all students have the opportunity to succeed.

By partnering with institutions, Labster provides accessible, high-quality virtual labs and interactive science resources, not just alleviating the financial burden on students but also enhancing the quality of education. 

As we move forward, it is crucial for policymakers, educators, and institutions to increase funding, share best practices, and integrate ZTC materials into curriculum planning. Together, we can work towards an educational environment where a student doesn’t have to make that choice between paying their rent or buying a textbook. 

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