San Bernardino Valley College is committed to making education accessible to everyone, and with the Zero Textbook Cost Degree, students will be able to finish their degree without having to pay for a single textbook.

The Zero Textbook Cost Degree, or "Z-degree," is an Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative now being piloted at more than 20 colleges. This fall, SBVC will pilot a Z-degree: an A.A. in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Grant funds for the Z-degree are provided by the California Community Colleges State Chancellor's Office, and according to Jennifer Bjerke, a geography instructor at SBVC, if the program is successful, SBVC students will collectively save roughly $700,000 over three years.

"These degrees lower the cost of education, increase access to educational resources, and decrease the time to degree completion," Bjerke said. "All of these objectives are a great fit with the overall mission of the California Community Colleges." The Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences degree has been selected for the pilot program because it's one of SBVC's most popular degrees, and is a great choice for students who want to transfer.

"Additionally, we already had enough faculty teaching courses with zero textbook costs that we could offer a clear pathway to completing 60 units without ever paying for a textbook," Bjerke said. "With this grant, we are ensuring that this Z-degree pathway is sustainable and we are continuing to expand our zero textbook cost course sections, which will hopefully lead to more zero textbook cost degrees and certificates."

The first two cohorts participating in the Z-degree pilot program — 40 in the fall and 40 more in the spring — will receive one-on-one counseling with Andrea Hecht, the Zero Textbook Cost Degree counselor, each semester, plus access to a Chromebook and special events related to their classes.

"All of our students can already take advantage of the Zero Textbook Cost sections listed in our class schedule and on our website, but this degree pathway provides a little extra guidance for students," Bjerke said. The grant also includes 40 $1,500 stipends to cover professional development for faculty members who are writing their own lab manuals and converting and developing zero textbook cost sections.

"Finding, curating, and successfully using open educational resources presents new challenges," Bjerke said, and the grant is "a great way to support our faculty who are working hard to achieve our culture of continuous improvement."