California Senate Takes Steps to Make eTextbooks Free and Available

ImageToday, December 13th, the California’s Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced new legislation to lessen college expenses for students. The bill will create a free online library of digital textbooks full of the most common lower division courses taken by college students in California.President Steinberg was joined by college students and instructors today at the state capitol building for the announcement. Students announced an online petition targeted at legislators and college professors to show support for the bill.Speakers included students from UC Davis and CSUS, Dr. Larry Green, Mathematics Co-Chair at Lake Tahoe Community College and 20 Million Minds Foundation President Dean Florez.As the state continues to cut the financial aid available to schools and students they are seeking ways to make the cost of college more affordable.  When looking at the financial trends you can see the cost of college, and its materials have grown at a exponential rate over the past 30 years.

According to George Skelton at the Capitol Journal: In 1980, the average annual cost of undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of California was $776. Today, it’s $13,218. That’s an 18% increase over last year, which was 14% higher than the previous year, which was 23% steeper than the year before that.

Add up room, board, books and pocket change and you’re easily into 30-plus grand.

In the California State University system, average annual fees were $160 in 1980. Now they’re around $6,500, up 23% in the last year. Another hike is on tap for next September.

At community colleges, there were no academic fees before 1984. That year, a $5 per unit charge was imposed. Now it’s up to $36; figure $864 annually for a full load. Sure, that’s a bargain. But it’s still a difficult reach for a single mom working a part-time job.

Darrell Steinberg, the lawmaker introducing the bills adds that the average college textbook in 2010 cost $104, a 24% increase from five years before. Between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186%, double the inflation rate. Students can expect to spend more than $1,100 a year on books.

One of the answers, according to the new proposal law is to establish a council to select 50 courses for the program to target.  Those courses would then have material sent out to bid with the goal of free online materials or a printed version for under $20. All materials created under the program would be housed in a “California open-source digital library”  similar to the one we discussed being produced in the State of Washington.  Steinberg estimates the start up costs of this project to be around 20 million dollars but anticipates an annual savings of student of over 1 billion dollars.

The key to the success of this program and others under way is their ability to create content that is as good or better than the materials provided by the publishers and then to get the faculty to adapt them.  It is a multi step process and I agree it needs to start somewhere but a lot of parts are required to get this locomotive moving down the track. I applaud the effort and will keep an eye on its progress.

Comments (5)

  1. Cheap College Textbooks

    This is an interesting development, I hope it doesn’t take to long to implement as it some time does when dealing with the government. I’m also interested if these books will be available to the general public or just students enrolled in one of California’s Colleges or Universities. Either way digital is going to be a big part of our future.

    1. TextbookGuru (Post author)

      As with anything in education it will take a bit of time. First they will need to create the actual materials that need to be used. Once created it will be up to professors to start using these in the class room instead of the other version. The law will not require their use, that will be up to the schools and teachers. Students can also make an impact by telling their professors they want a cheaper alternative.

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