March 21, 2023

San Diego Mesa College has saved students over $4 million dollars through zero text book cost initiatives

14 Zero Textbook Cost Degree Pathways are available at Mesa College.

By Office of Communications

Students Text Books

Contact: Lisa Burgert, Collection Development/Open Educational Resources Librarian


San Diego - As the leading college of equity and excellence, San Diego Mesa College believes that textbooks should not be a barrier to education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there has been a 1041% increase in textbook costs from 1977 to 2015. This increase in textbook costs has contributed to education being prohibitive.

ZTC, or Zero Textbook Costs, refer to classes where any required textbook can be accessed online for free or that there isn’t a required textbook assigned.  Equity and overcoming barriers to student success are the hallmarks of Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) initiatives. In fact, ZTC is so important that Governor Newsom dedicated $115 million for California Community Colleges to help facilitate the formation of ZTC degree pathways. 

San Diego Mesa College offers 14 ZTC degree path programs that are saving students over $1 million each year.  Although it is difficult to track the exact amount of savings at this time, estimates suggest, based on the number of courses offering ZTC and students enrolled, that since fall 2019, Mesa students have saved over $4 million in textbook costs thanks to faculty using these Open Educational Resources (OER).

In the spring of 2021, Achieving the Dream (ATD) selected eight colleges, including San Diego Mesa College, to participate in its research on open educational resources (OER). The goal of ATD’s Teaching and Learning with OER study was to understand whether and how faculty’s use of OER leads to the adoption of new pedagogical strategies in the classroom.


Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges, like Mesa College, committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity.

Mesa College (Mesa) has designated ZTC classes in the class schedule with a logo that is a dollar sign surrounded by a circle with a line diagonally through it.   

Currently, Mesa has 14 ZTC degree pathways. ZTC degree pathways are degrees where a students can attend and graduate from Mesa without paying for a single college textbook. Mesa college faculty and staff have been dedicated to this initiative, and many professors have overhauled their classes to make them ZTC compatible, and along the way they’ve made some excellent discoveries.

Professor Mary Gwin stated, “I discovered that switching to ZTC allowed me to teach sustainability courses with data and resources that are up to date and current.”

English Professors Pegah Motaleb, Christie Allred, Jorge Villalobos and many more found that they have been able to incorporate marginalized voices into readings through the use of library materials and openly licensed materials. In fact, transfer English classes have the most ZTC sections of any courses at Mesa College.  

Having 14 ZTC degree pathways is an amazing start – and as always, Mesa College plans to do more. Mesa recently received $20,000 in funding from the state in conjunction with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Open Educational Resources Initiative intended to continue these efforts.


Mesa College prides itself on being the leading college of equity and excellence, and the focus on ZTC is one of the ways Mesa is closing equity gaps and creating a fruitful environment of academic learning. More information is available at 


Mesa College ZTC Questions and Answers


What is a ZTC Pathway/how students find them in the class schedule?

1.  When a class is labeled as ZTC (Zero Textbook Cost) that means any required textbook can be accessed online for free, or that there isn't a required textbook assigned for the class. Students will not be required to purchase a textbook for the class.

2.  ZTC (Zero Textbook Cost) classes are easy to identify in the class schedule   


What ZTC pathways does San Diego Mesa College have? 

1.  General Education Mesa & Transfer

2.  Communication Studies AA & AA Transfer

3.  Creative Writing CA

4.  English AA & AA Transfer

5.  Fine Art: Art History AA & AA Transfer

6.  Geography AA

7.  Mathematics AA & AS Transfer

8.  Applied Mathematics AA 

9.  Dance AA, Choreography CA, Commercial Dance CA



Why is breaking barriers for students/improving student success important, especially for marginalized populations?

1.  Textbook costs should not be a barrier to education. The price of college textbooks increased 88%  from January 2006 to July 2016. If we take a longer look back, the increase is even more startling. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a 1,041% increase from January 1977 to June 2015, which is over three times the rate of inflation. College students face steep price tags that can make the cost of learning higher than the cost of attending a college or university.

2.  Students learn more when they have access to quality materials. The rapidly rising cost of textbooks in higher education has left many students without access to the materials they need to succeed. Studies show  that 93% of students who use OER do as well or better than those using traditional materials, since they have easy access to the content starting day one of the course.

3.  Openly licensed materials increase currency and relevancy. Imagine a science textbook that incorporates the latest results from a laboratory, or a math tutorial that incorporates local landmarks into word problems. This and more is possible when instructional materials are created to be shared and improved digitally and legally.

4.  Reduces equity gaps. Mesa takes seriously our responsibility to equity. In July 2018, a large-scale study by the University of Georgia was published that examined the impact of OER on student success metrics. The findings revealed that OER improves end-of course grades and decreases D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades for all students and at greater rates for non-white and Pell-eligible students, part-time students, and populations historically underserved by higher education. Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC, noted that “the most important finding of this study is that it directly links OER with equity. The greatest gains from using OER accrued to the students most likely to be underserved for traditional models" (McKenzie, 2018). 


Check out Mesa’s Zero Textbook Cost Degrees

Find OER and Zero Cost Materials



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About San Diego Mesa College

San Diego Mesa College is a fully accredited, comprehensive college committed to equity and excellence. We honor our diverse community of students, faculty, professional staff, and administrators who collaborate to foster scholarship, leadership, access, and innovation in an inclusive learning environment. By promoting student learning and achievement that leads to degrees and certificates, transfer, workforce training, and lifelong learning, we empower our students to reach their educational goals and shape their future. Among the largest community colleges in California, Mesa serves 25,000 students per year, 25% of whom are full-time. Mesa offers nearly 200 associate degree and certificate programs and is one of 15 California community colleges offering a four-year baccalaureate degree. Mesa ranks as San Diego’s top transfer institution, is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and a Military Friendly School, serving nearly 2,500 veterans and their families.

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