California State University, Northridge Developing Zero Cost Classes and Majors

Credit: Alfa Studio, iStock.

Credit: Alfa Studio, iStock.

California State University, Northridge has been working to develop zero-cost classes by eliminating the costs of course materials, an extension of a CSU-wide Affordable Learning $olutions initiative.  

The initiative is dictated by California wide-legislation, with a Cal State team on each campus leading the development of strategies as these affordable learning solutions are implemented. The CSUN Affordable Learning Solutions team is headed by co-coordinators Yi Ding and Lindsay Brown, both of whom work for the University Library.  

“The librarians here on our campus are very concerned about high textbook costs and affordability issues for our students,” said Mark Stover, dean of the University Library. “They saw a synergy between information resources – which the library is in the business of providing – and traditional textbooks, and are hoping to find that sweet spot where students can find low cost or no cost alternatives to the traditional high costs of print textbooks.”  

The initiative includes the implementation of a class cataloging system that provides students with an icon indicator as to which classes are designed with cost-free materials. The long-term goal of the initiative would result in a major track with cost-free course materials for all four years of class requirements.  

“We want to let students know that they have agency, that they can choose,” said Brown. “They can decide to take the one that’s going to be more affordable or they can take the one that they know that the faculty member has gone out of their way to help them save money.” 

Many campuses are modeling their program after an initiative started in 2018 at California State University, Channel Islands, titled Z-majors. With the “Z” referring to “zero textbook costs,” the university’s initiative offered students a pathway to their major’s required courses without the need to purchase a textbook. 

The use of Open Educational Resources is growing in popularity as it offers a multimedia platform for learning using journal articles, videos, government documents and interactive activities. Other examples of cost-free materials include textbook digital and print reserves at the library, online courseware, e-books and bookstore partnerships.  

“We’re never going to dictate what people teach with, but I hope that one of the things that they’ll think about is: ‘Are my students going to be able to afford this?’” said Brown. “When we’ve surveyed students and they can’t buy the book it’s not because they’re lazy or they don’t want to. It’s that they can either pay for their phone or they can pay for the textbook.” 

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