Zero textbook cost initiative continues to save students millions of dollars

The initiative provides open learning textbooks in courses taught at KPU

(Kristen Frier)

The Zero Textbook Cost initiative aims to help students save money on textbook fees by providing free open educational textbooks available for students to use during their courses.

Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani is an Associate Vice Provost of Open Education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is also the co-director of the Open Pedagogy Notebook and serves as an Associate Editor of Psychology Learning and Teaching. He recently received the Emerging Leader Award from the International Open Education Awards for Excellence.

The ZTC initiative began as a means to raise awareness of high textbook costs among university students. ZTC started three years ago, Jhangiani worked on the initiative along with faculty members, staff members, and students.

“I realized that we had an opportunity to not just have individual courses that students could have no textbook costs for, but actually [have] a full program,” he says.

The certificate in arts program was the first program to entirely incorporate the ZTC. The courses used free textbooks that were accessible digitally, and in a print format which students could access for a small fee for the printing cost.

“We worked with our friends in the bookstore and a print shop and set up a print-on-demand system. So that is still very affordable, but it’s just the cost of printing. So you know, it’s like 20 bucks for a textbook instead of $200,” he says.

Jhangiani and others performed extensive research behind bringing the ZTC initiative at KPU. He discovered that “54 per cent of students reported that they had not purchased at least one of their required course textbooks because of cost.” Twenty seven per cent of students either didn’t register for a specific course, or they dropped the course because of the high cost of textbooks, he adds.

He also conducted research comparing courses which used free textbooks to others that used traditional textbooks. The results suggested that students who used the free textbooks “were performing significantly better” than those who used traditional textbooks.

Instructors are also benefiting from the ZTC program. “Faculty were realizing that they were able to do things with open educational resources that they could never do with traditional textbooks,” says Jhangiani.

With open educational textbooks, instructors were able to revise the books as needed or add information missing from the open textbook, and add recent research.

“So the ability to customize the textbook to the course was powerful instead of kind of bending the course onto the table of contents of a textbook,” he says.

KPU students can take hundreds of courses that incorporate ZTC.

“None of this would happen if we didn’t have, you know, more than 400 faculty, really excited about this. So I would say, you know, it’s a recognition of the value of this work and the leadership of commitment on the international stage.”

A list of programs that incorporate the ZTC can be found at KPU’s open course website.