See more of the story

A Bethel University program aims to ease the financial burden of purchasing textbooks for students.

Instead of having to pay more than $1,000 a year on textbooks, students can download all the resources they need for free through the Zero Cost Course Resources Initiative. The program is available in select areas of study, but the school in Arden Hills is trying to expand it to as many university fields as possible.

The school began working on the program in May 2018 after receiving grant money from Bethel University Foundation. Last spring, the program officially launched, said Judith Landrum, the school's dean of education, Christian ministries and associate programs.

The initiative is available in the College of Adult and Professional Studies and the International Baccalaureate certificate program. Faculty gather free resources for the course through the school's library system, and make them available for students to download.

Some areas of study are easier to transition to under the program, but others, such as those in the medical field, are harder to become zero-cost, said Mary Michener, the program director for associate of arts degrees at Bethel.

But even if some programs can't fully become zero-cost, many have been able to make some of their materials free.

"Anywhere we can find it, we use it," Michener said.

The University of Northwestern-St. Paul, another private university, has offered a similar zero-cost program since 2016.

Landrum and Michener said they've known students to take time off from school or withdraw from a course due to the high costs of textbooks. Some students decide not to purchase the books at all, which leads them to struggle in the course.

"Nationally, the data tells us that 40 percent of college students don't buy some of their textbooks because of costs. And so knowing that, anytime we can save $10, $100 or $1,000, we want to do this," Landrum said.

Michener said the initiative is especially helpful for students who are first-generation college students who come from diverse backgrounds.

"Any way we can take a financial burden off of them so they can reach their goals — that's a win," Michener said.

Both Landrum and Michener said they've received positive feedback from students about the program. Landrum said students said it helped improve their learning and complete their degree.

"The No. 1 thing is it helps students succeed. It increases their capacity to learn and save some money," she said. "Yet, it builds equity into our system. So that's why we want to do it, that's why we're putting time, energy and resources into it."

Katrina Pross ( is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.