University of Northwestern—St. Paul is offering the first zero-textbook-cost degree or "Z-degree" in Minnesota and one of the first bachelor Z-degrees in the nation, with the online Bachelor of Science in Business Management program.
Free textbooks and degree specific courses that have zero textbook costs are a part of UNW's desire to remove barriers for students. U.S. News & World Reports noted that the cost of college textbooks has increased by 82% over the past 10 years, growing at three times the rate of inflation. Now the average cost of textbooks for one year is $1,200, an expense which can cause some students to choose not to take a course, or not buy the textbook for the course.
"We really see this as a great opportunity to help our students be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them," said Sara Ring, director of Adult Undergraduate Business Management and MBA programs. "If they spend less or no money on textbooks, that is one less worry for them about school, and they can use those financial resources in other ways."
Creative Commons licensed textbooks or "open" textbooks are able to be accessed, downloaded, and even edited, free of charge. Non-profit organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Hewlett Foundation often sponsor the writing of the textbooks to allow for free use by the public.
The open-sourced textbooks used in this program have outstanding benefits for students:
- Customizable Content: Creative Commons licensing can allow for editing, so professor can combine the most relevant and up-to-date information into one resource for students.
- Digital Format: All of a student’s textbooks can be viewed on a desktop or mobile device for easy access. Texts are searchable and can even link directly to additional web content. If a paper version is preferred, digital books can be printed for between $20-50.
- Zero Cost: Free textbooks can save a student $2,000 over the length of the program.