1 California

James Glapa-Grossklag

Course Marking Drivers

SB1359 was passed in September 2016, going into force in January 2018. The law “requires California Community Colleges and California State Universities and requests the University of California system to include a symbol/logo in the online campus course schedule by January 1, 2018 for courses that exclusively use digital course materials that are free of charge to students and therefore not required to be purchased.”

The potential scale of impact is significant. With 114 colleges serving 2.1 million students, the California Community Colleges (CCCs) comprise the largest public system of higher education in the US. The California State University (CSU) with 23 campuses serving nearly 500,000 students, is the largest four-year public university system in the US. Notably, the law does not apply to the state’s research-focused University of California.

Zero Cost Textbook logo for California Community Colleges
Figure 1.1: Zero Cost Textbook Logo


Between the passage of the law in 2016 and the implementation of the law in 2018, both the CCCs and CSU systems engaged in outreach to the field. The CCCs’ system office issued a memo to college leadership explaining the requirements and created a sample logo that colleges could choose to adopt. The CSU system’s Affordable Learning Solutions team engaged the field with a series of webinars and FAQs.

The CCCs refer to the designator as “ZTC” for Zero Textbook Cost. The CSU formally refers to the designator as “ZCCM” for zero-cost course materials.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Interpretation of the legal requirements differs from institution to institution, as well as between system offices. The CCC system office guidance states that the “symbol is a requirement only for those courses where the cost of the textbook is zero dollars and no cost to the student.” The CSU system office guidance states that “courses using library or other course materials paid for by the campus, resulting in free access to all students for all of the course materials, should get a ZCCM designation. Courses that do not require any additional instructional materials should also be identified in the class schedule using the same ZCCM designation.”

Both the CCCs and the CSU are de-centralized systems, with each institution making its own choice about bookstore contracts, student information systems, nomenclature for describing class offerings, and data collection. To this point, no statewide implementation data has been gathered.

Some colleges use the ZTC symbol to designate sections that use OER or library holdings. Other colleges use the symbol to designate also sections in which no textbook is required. The Academic Senate of the California Community Colleges has called for clarification from the state on these issues (ASCCC Resolution 13.01, Spring 2019). Other local implementation variations arise from:

  • Using different student information systems – does the SIS permit you to add symbols at the section level?
  • Adopting different nomenclature – does ZTC automatically equate with OER? What happens when an open textbook is adopted with a fee-based homework system?
  • Varied college store structures – does the institution rely on the college store to display price information? If so, different third-party vendors and in-house stores use different scheduling software and have their own differences in nomenclature.

While a low-cost designation (LC) is not covered by SB1359, the introduction of the ZTC designation and an increasing awareness of cost pressures on students have accelerated discussions around LC. Would this increase transparency for students? Would this incentivize or penalize faculty who do or do not adopt OER? How many symbols in a schedule are useful for students’ decision making?

OER advocates can cheer the fact that the state legislature promotes price transparency and recognizes the potential of OER to help reduce the cost barrier to education. Nevertheless, implementation of such laws would be smoother and more consistent if representatives of the field were included in crafting the legislation and developing state system guidance.


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Price Transparency by James Glapa-Grossklag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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