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January 27, 2020

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The Nicolet College criminal justice program has the distinction of being the first college academic program in the state with zero textbook costs. Student Brielle Tauer, left, said she’s “absolutely thrilled” with the development. She’s pictured here with criminal justice instructor Phil Schmidt, who was instrumental in getting the program to Z degree status.
contributed photograph

The Nicolet College criminal justice program has the distinction of being the first college academic program in the state with zero textbook costs. Student Brielle Tauer, left, said she’s “absolutely thrilled” with the development. She’s pictured here with criminal justice instructor Phil Schmidt, who was instrumental in getting the program to Z degree status.
11/26/2019 7:30:00 AM
Nicolet College criminal justice program first in state to have zero student textbook costs

Every college student knows textbooks can get expensive - and fast. But that's not an issue any more for students in Nicolet College's criminal justice program.

Starting in January, students can complete the entire two-year program with exactly zero textbook costs, the college announced in a press release.

Nineteen-year-old Brielle Tauer is paying her own way through the criminal justice program at Nicolet.

"I can't tell you how huge this is. Money is definitely tight and not having to purchase textbooks, it's like almost shocking in a very good way. It frees up money for other things, simple things, like decent food."

With this move the criminal justice program at Nicolet becomes the first academic program in the 16-college Wisconsin Technical College System to bring textbook costs down to zero.

"This is exciting for students and will certainly be a huge help for them financially as they work their way to becoming college graduates," said Jason Goeldner, associate dean of public safety at Nicolet. "The cost of college is a concern for many students and for some it even prevents them from earning that credential that paves the way for a better life. By eliminating textbook costs, it opens the door wider for more students to become college graduates."

The 66-credit criminal justice associate's degree now has the distinction of being a Z degree, for zero textbook costs. The change is expected to save each student at least $1,300.

Cindy Domaika, manager of open and instructional resources at Nicolet, has been the chief architect at the college to reduce - and in this case eliminate - textbook costs for students in all academic programs.

"It's absolutely crazy what some textbooks cost and how the prices keep rising so dramatically," said Domaika, who used to run the bookstore at Nicolet. "There were times in the past when I've seen students literally in tears walking out of the bookstore. I knew that there had to be a better way."

Domaika worked closely with Nicolet criminal justice instructors to assemble a myriad of free instructional materials. These include materials from sources such as the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and, a vast, content-rich website where professional educators from across the globe openly share a wide variety of instructional material that is available at no cost. Materials range from electronic textbooks to videos and PowerPoint presentations to a wide variety of other content that is available entirely in an electronic format. All resources are also hand-picked and vetted to make sure they meet high academic standards.

Tauer, who recently moved to the Northwoods from Milwaukee, is now in her second year of the criminal justice program. She said she looked at nearly a half dozen other colleges before selecting Nicolet.

"Cost, quality, and small class sizes were the biggest factors I was looking at, and Nicolet came out on top," said Tauer, who someday would like to be a detective. "Not having to spend a ton of money on textbooks was a big part of that."

Along with full-time Nicolet faculty instruction, the free materials Tauer and her classmates use are supplemented with guest lectures by law enforcement professionals in the Northwoods with specific areas of expertise, the release states.

"You put all of that together and I'd say the overall quality is better than what you would receive with just textbooks," she said. "There's just so much real world experience coming into our classes, along with all of our scenario training, you just can't beat it."

Nicolet first incorporated free Open Educational Resources materials in classes in the fall of 2017. Twenty-three classes launched the initiative. Today, that's increased more than five-fold with 121 classes using free materials. To date Domaika estimates the move has saved students about $434,000.

"Next semester we'll easily top half a million dollars in savings for students, which is fantastic," she said.

Domaika and faculty are now working to make other programs Z degrees with zero textbook costs.

"The students love it," she said. "They don't have to lug around heavy textbooks, all of the material is right on their devices, and they're saving all kinds of money."

For more information about the criminal justice program and the other academic programs at Nicolet, visit or call the college at 715-365-4493, 1-800-544-3039; TTY 1-800-947-3529.

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