California Effort Wants to Make College Textbooks Free

Could this be the end of $200 textbooks in the Golden State?

Paying for college textbooks could become more affordable for cash-strapped California students. State senator Darrell Steinberg plans to introduce two bills in the next legislative session that would eliminate pricey textbooks and bring the open-source revolution to the Golden State.

Steinberg’s first bill would create 50 open-source textbooks for all the core classes required for lower-division coursework. Students would be able to access the books for free via their computer or their mobile phones. And, if they want a printed copy, those would be available for a mere $20.

Following the lead of Washington State’s Open Course Library, the second bill would create the "California Digital Open Source Library," a platform for students to access the books and for professors to customize them. The bill would also require publishers to put three copies of textbooks used in classes available in campus reserve libraries.

One possible hitch: the project is expected to cost around $25 million, big bucks at a time when California plans to chop an additional $200 million in midyear cuts from the Cal State and University of California systems. But textbook advocate Nicole Allen of StudentPIRGS says that even though that's "a lot of money given the state's budget issues," since California "has close to 3 million college students, at least half of which are at the community colleges," the return on the investment "would be huge."

Indeed, Steinberg says since he’s proposing the bills because textbook prices "are going up four times the rate of inflation, and many students say they drop out of college because they can’t afford to spend more than $1,000 a year on books." If schools use technology and adopt open source digital texts, says Steinberg, each student could save a significant chunk of change.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Stephen Cummings

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