‘Z-Degree’ to turn pages

Grant to help students save

Robert Pierce

Los Medanos College could be spending less money on textbooks fairly soon – perhaps no money at all, as a matter of fact, as several LMC faculty are working together to implement a program by the end of 2018 that will allow students to finish a degree pathway without spending a dime on textbooks.

The funding for the project comes from the California Community Colleges State Chancellor’s Office, which has been allocating money for ‘Zero Textbook Cost’ or ZTC initiatives for some time now. LMC faculty members Scott Hubbard of the math department and Edward Haven of the philosophy department collaborated to apply for a grant as part of Phase II of the statewide ZTC Program, and were successful, as LMC will be working to make the Philosophy Associate of Arts for Transfer degree a Zero Textbook Cost Degree, or “Z-Degree”.

“The grant is providing funds for developing a zero textbook cost degree,” said Haven. “What this means is from day one to completion of the philosophy degree students will not have to pay for any class resources other than the printing of their textbooks. All of the resources will be provided for free digitally.”

While digital textbooks do have drawbacks, the money saved would drastically lower the monetary stress on students.

“This includes the General Education courses needed to complete the degree,” he continued. “So its impact will go far beyond just the degree-seeking students.”

In other words, while Philosophy AA-T majors will be the ones to reap the full benefits of this project, many other students from many other majors may be pleasantly surprised with the knowledge that one of their general education courses next year doesn’t require a paid textbook.

Of course, students still need educational materials – however, ZTC classes will use Open Educational Resources, or OERs, instead of traditional textbooks. OERs are defined as “free educational materials and textbooks that students do not need to purchase” according to Dean of Student Success Dave Belman, a major player in the project.

“We couldn’t have done it without him,” Scott Hubbard said of Belman. Beyond Belman, Hubbard also cited Academic Senate President and Choir/Vocal Studies faculty member Silvester Henderson, Vice President of Business & Administrative Services Alexander Porter and Dean of Liberal Arts Nancy Ybarra, among others, as faculty members who helped the project come to life, emphasizing the fact that “it was such a team effort.” Belman himself also recognized Librarian Christina Goff as a major contributor.

“The whole college came together to make this happen,” said Hubbard.

He is the one who originally had the idea for pushing a ZTC project after reading correspondence sent to him by Henderson. At first, he planned to do it by himself, but he later teamed up with Haven to begin formally pursuing a grant from the state of California.

The two worked together to collect various data – interested teachers, textbook prices, which classes used, which books, et cetera.

They met with Dean Belman and eventually went to a conference on OERs in Marin, where they realized that LMC, despite missing out on the first phase of state grants, was actually further along the path of implementation that other community colleges with a presence at the conference.

“That, to me, was the turning point,” said Hubbard, adding that after the conference the whole idea “seemed much more do-able.”

Eventually, LMC secured grant funding and decided to make philosophy the first department with which to implement a Z-Degree, despite the math department already having several pre-existent classes without textbook costs, such as Math-40, Pre-Calculus.

“Philosophy is the first program for a number of reasons,” Haven stated. “It is a smaller program, so it makes for a good testing ground… It is new, so many of the courses do not yet have established textbooks… Philosophy already has an open culture of sharing… [and] many of the primary texts are already in the public domain.”

After fully implementing the Z-Degree into the Philosophy AA-T, the project members have high hopes for its expansion – Haven mentioned that a “number of programs have already shown interest and initiative”, and Hubbard explained the goal is to “work with faculty to make as many [courses] zero-cost as possible”, mentioning that the officialism of the grant makes it easier to get faculty to work together.

“Once completed, this grant project has the potential to have an enormous impact on students by reducing the high cost of attending college – specifically the high cost of textbooks,” said Belman. “While all LMC students will benefit from the ability to complete classes without buying expensive textbooks, students who already struggle financially with the cost of attending LMC will see a significant benefit.”

Overall, the future looks bright for the project, and many faculty are excited to work on its implementation – Belman is currently looking to full the position of Project Director to co-ordinate it in 2018.

“There’s good changes coming,” Hubbard declared.