The state of California has long recognized the value of open educational resources (OER) and zero textbook cost (ZTC) degrees in the California Community Colleges system. By funding the 2016 ZTC Degree Grant Program, the ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative, and the 2022 ZTC Program, the governor and the legislature have made it clear that OER and ZTC are ongoing priorities.
The ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI) was created through funds allocated by the state to serve as a faculty-led, student-centered effort to increase OER availability and adoption. The OERI is uniquely positioned to support faculty and colleges with establishing ZTC degrees. As part of the ASCCC, the OERI has benefitted from existing mechanisms for communicating with faculty across the system and established a system of OER liaisons across the state to ensure two-way communication between the OERI and colleges. This network has been used to share information and professional development opportunities regarding OER and now the current ZTC Program.
In 2016, the state allocated $5 million to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) to establish the ZTC Degree Grant Program. Thirty-one of the state’s 114 accredited degree-granting colleges at the time — approximately 27% —received funds from the ZTC Degree Grant. Of these colleges, eight received only a planning grant of up to $35,000. Thirteen received one implementation grant of up to $150,000. Nine of the remaining colleges received both types of grants and one received two implementation grants. In addition, San Diego Continuing Education received a planning grant and two implementation grants. Under the ZTC Degree Grant Program, nothing was done to prevent duplication between or among college efforts, and no structures were established to ensure accountability. In addition, neither expansion nor sustainability was encouraged or required.
In the summer of 2021, the California Legislature designated $115 million to expand ZTC degrees in the California Community Colleges system. While elements of the language of the legislation are unclear and introduce definitions that conflict with conventional definitions of OER and ZTC, colleges should collaborate to ensure that these funds are spent responsibly with an emphasis on growing the availability of no-cost course sections across the state and an expectation that the work of the colleges will be shared. Specifically, Education Code §78052 references preventing duplication and ensuring sustainability and collaboration. To date, no efforts have been made by the CCCCO to seek input from colleges on how to implement the ZTC Program to best ensure collaboration and sustainability, and has only asked - through completion of a form in the NOVA system - for “Assurances” from a college representative as a means of ensuring accountability for the funds that have been provided to the colleges (e.g., “I have read and am familiar with the ZTC Program requirements listed in Education Code Sections 78050 through 78052 and agree to all the program requirements stipulated).
Of further concern is the timeline of awarding the funding so that colleges might implement ZTC programs to secure a timely benefit for students. California Education Code §78052 (j) specifies that "The chancellor’s office shall award an initial round of grants no later than January 1 of a fiscal year for which the funds are appropriated." While the legislation required that an initial round of funding occur by January 1, 2022, the CCCCO did not act or announce anything until July. On July 29, 2022, a "Zero Textbook Cost Program - Overview and Guidance" memo was distributed. This memo presented a brief background of ZTC in the colleges, recognized the ASCCC-proposed section-level data element as a critical component of tracking instructional materials costs, stated the CCCCO’s intent to convene a ZTC Taskforce, and announced that a Phase 1 of grants will provide $20,000 to colleges to "begin the development of a ZTC program" (CCCCO, 2022). It also referenced a competitive Phase 2 of funding.
Until February 23, 2023 the CCCCO had not published additional official communications about the ZTC Program since the distribution of the memo. As a result, colleges received the Phase 1 funds with no formal guidance. Guidance was provided informally via CCCCO office hours through December of 2022, but absent formal documentation colleges are uncertain as to what they can expect from the CCCCO and what the CCCCO will expect from the colleges. Additional developments since the July memo are as follows:
- The "ZTC Taskforce" referenced in the July 2022 memo was renamed, as it is not explicitly about the ZTC Program.
- Presentations and informal communications indicated that the process for obtaining Phase 2 funds would be initiated in October of 2022.
- Presentations and informal communications indicated that a Phase 3 of funding would be made available in Spring 2023. Phase 3 would be $180,000 per college to implement a ZTC pathway specified in the Phase 1 plan.
Questions from faculty and colleges and the lack of comprehensive documentation prompted the OERI to develop the "Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Program Overview: What We Think We Know" (OERI, 2022), compiling all available information. A year after the ZTC Program was to be initiated (i.e., January 1, 2022), all degree-granting colleges have received $20,000 to develop a plan. On February 23, 2023, a 2nd memo regarding the ZTC Program (Zero Textbook Cost Program Updates) was distributed that established the following (please note the following was copied directly from the memo):
- Colleges will need to review the ZTC program assurances and complete their certification in NOVA by March 31, 2023.
- In March 2023, 115 colleges will receive an additional $180,000 through district apportionment to design, develop and pilot a ZTC degree offering. Using the NOVA platform, colleges will need to submit a workplan by October 2023 and complete implementation and reporting by December 2024. The Chancellor’s Office will communicate to all colleges and districts the availability of the workplan in NOVA.
- What was formally known as Phase 2 will be titled “ZTC Acceleration Grants” going forward. They are competitive grants and intend to support the acceleration in development and implementation of ZTC degree programs by those colleges and/or districts that are ready. Interested colleges and/or districts will apply by responding to the Chancellor’s Office’s Request for Applications (RFA). Applicants will provide details about their proposed ZTC program(s) and self-assessments of their institutions’ capacity to support that effort. The RFA will be released in Fall 2023, and awardees may receive up to $200,000 for each degree development and implemented. The application, review, and selection timeline will be articulated at the time of the formal release of the RFA.
The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has adopted a long list of positions regarding what should happen with the ZTC funds (OERI n.d.b). These positions emphasize the importance of ensuring implementation is consistent with the legislation (Resolution 3.03 S22), call on the CCCCO to consult and partner with the ASCCC in designing the implementation of the ZTC Program (Resolution 7.04 F22), encourage local academic senates to work with their administrative colleagues to use a portion of the ZTC funds to support a faculty coordinator who leads the college’s OER and ZTC efforts (Resolution 17.03 F22), oppose the use of mechanisms to achieve zero-textbook-costs that are not sustainable (Resolution 3.03 S22), and advocate for transparency (Resolution 13.10 S22) to ensure that the ZTC program’s benefits for students and the state are maximized. While discussions of ZTC are often blended with OER, ASCCC Resolution 3.05 F21 acknowledges that not all courses can achieve ZTC status with OER and advocates for the use of a variety of mechanisms to reduce course costs for students. 
Despite the stated concerns about timelines, lack of specifics, and failure to seek input from the field, the ASCCC and the OERI will continue to advocate for its effective implementation, focusing on sustainability, maximizing impact, and meeting the needs of both faculty and students.
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2022, July 29). Zero Textbook Cost Program – Overview and Guidance. https://asccc-oeri.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/memo-ess-22-100-005-ztc-program-overview-and-guidance-a11y.pdf
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2023, February 23). Zero Textbook Cost Program Updates. https://asccc-oeri.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Memo_ESS-23-04_ZTC.pdf
Open Educational Resources Initiative. (2022, September 26). Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Program Overview: What We Think We Know. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. https://asccc-oeri.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/ZTC-Program-Overview-OERI-Compiled-Information-and-FAQs-FINAL.pdf
Open Educational Resources Initiative. (n.d.a). ZTC Phase 1 in NOVA. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.https://asccc-oeri.org/ztc-phase-1-in-nova/
Open Educational Resources Initiative. (n.d.b). OER-Related ASCCC Resolutions. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges>. https://asccc-oeri.org/asccc-resolutions/
1. The text of all ASCCC resolutions is available at https://www.asccc.org/resources/resolutions.