Zero Textbook Cost Courses Increase at CUNY SPS

The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is at the forefront of a CUNY-wide initiative to save students money on textbooks by offering Zero Textbook Cost online courses (Z sections) using Open Education Resources (OER) rather than traditional textbooks.

Rising textbook costs pose a significant barrier to college access and completion.  According to the American Enterprise Institute, the cost of college textbooks has escalated by 181% since 1998 while the cost of recreational books has decreased by 4.2% during the same time period.  The College Board recommends that college students budget at least $1,200 per year for textbooks and course supplies, a number that dramatically increases the cost of attending college at CUNY, where undergraduate tuition at a 4-year college is $6,530.

To increase college access and completion rates by reducing prohibitive textbook costs, New York State has invested $8 million to promote use of OER in the CUNY and SUNY systems. Faculty, librarians, and instructional designers are collaborating to convert courses that currently use expensive publisher textbooks to Z (Zero Textbook Cost) sections. At CUNY SPS, the number of fully online undergraduate Z sections offered by the School has grown from 35 sections in Spring 2017 to 65 sections scheduled for Spring 2018.    

“Online courses are a natural fit with OER,” says Dr. Jennifer Sparrow, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of General Education. “For the past five years, the General Education program has been working to make all its courses low-cost (under $40) or no-cost textbooks.  We’re almost there.”

In lieu of using proprietary textbooks, Zero-Textbook Cost courses employ a mix of OER textbooks, links to scholarly and professional websites, resources from CUNY library databases, and multimedia lectures created by CUNY SPS professors. Faculty say that the OER initiative has produced a truly student-centered approach to online learning.

“Students no longer need to delay their ability to kick-start a successful semester because they are waiting for financial aid in order to purchase books,” says Professor Joan Mosely, the lead mathematics professor for General Education at CUNY SPS. “Instead, students receive easy to navigate platforms within Blackboard that are on par with the rigorous academic environment found in traditional brick and mortar classrooms.”

In January 2018 more than 75% of General Education sections at CUNY SPS will be Z sections, with additional course conversions planned for Fall 2018 and the prospect of a 4-year “Z Degree,” which would be the first of its kind at CUNY, on the horizon.

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