Governor Newsom’s January 8, 2021, budget proposal provides investments for California’s most vulnerable students. Included in the proposal is $15 million for the expansion of the California Community College System’s Zero-Textbook Cost (ZTC) Degree Program, which uses open educational resources to reduce the overall cost of education for students and decrease the time it takes students to complete their degree.

The ZTC Degree program eliminates textbook and material fees for entire degree pathways, which means fewer students will have their educational journeys delayed or derailed by the high cost of instructional materials. In 2016, a $5 million allocation to this program was estimated to save 23,000 students over $42 million in textbook costs, which is an 8x return on investment. Not only are students saving money, but also their grades are going up due to the ZTC Degree program. Colleges have seen a 3.1% increase in grades for all ZTC students, compared to non-ZTC. At the same time, ZTC programs help combat the equity issues that persist for students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. The program boasts a 7.6% increase in grades of Pell recipient ZTC students compared to non-ZTC. Additionally, minority students in ZTC courses performed at a higher level than minority students in non-ZTC courses. The latest funding allocation will only further the program’s reach.

Beyond the issue of high-cost textbooks, Governor Newsom proposed significant investments in student basic needs and emergency aid for California higher education students. The aid comes at a crucial time as students suffer from the brunt of the pandemic induced economic downturn. The Governor also took steps to address the digital equity crisis students face by closing gaps in digital access and strengthening the implementation of distance learning.

Additionally, Governor Newsom’s budget requires that all high school seniors complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) or California Dream Act Application beginning in the next academic year. We are proud to have partnered with the Education Trust-West in 2018 for the development of a toolbox to increase financial aid access. The toolbox highlights best practices and strategies for high school and district administrators, counselors, and teachers, to drive increased rates of completed financial aid applications, specifically for low-income students and students of color. With Governor Newsom’s proposed requirements, the toolbox becomes even more valuable as districts and schools ensure seniors submit financial aid applications.

Moving forward, the Michelson 20MM Foundation will continue to be catalytic in increasing access, affordability, and efficacy in higher education through the use of innovative technologies and new educational models. We will work to ensure that all students have an unobstructed pathway to educational and vocational success in 2021 and beyond.

The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.