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Free Textbooks At UC, CSU Schools?

Paresh Dave |
December 13, 2011 | 12:19 p.m. PST


Textbook publishers have yet to weigh on the proposed legislation. (Creative Commons)
Textbook publishers have yet to weigh on the proposed legislation. (Creative Commons)
Students in 50 widely taken courses at California's public universities would receive little-to-no-cost textbooks by the fall of 2014 under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by the state senate's top Democrat.

"It blows my mind," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, referring to the $1,100 the average student spends on textbooks each year. "There is a way to provide students with the highest quality textbooks at the fraction of the cost."

Steinberg wants the state to spend $25 million to fund a program that would allow for open-source, customizable textbooks that students could download as a PDF for free or order as a hard-copy textbook for about $20.

Textbook publishers, authors and the course professors would be invited to either team up or develop plans on their own to craft the back-end technology and compete for the money to develop the content.

The $25 million cost is based on an open-source textbook developed by a professor at Lake Tahoe Community College. It took about $500,000 in grants to create the book, with most of the money going to toward writing content.

The debate over textbook prices has waged on for nearly a decade with previous legislation pushing professors to be more conscious of textbook prices and addressing the cost of K-12 textbooks.

Steinberg has not yet heard from textbook publishers, and companies such as California-based textbook rental service Chegg did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Neon Tommy.

A special panel of UC/CSU/CC faculty would decide which 50 lower division courses the books would be for. About 25 courses would have the customizable textbooks available by fall 2013. The other 25 courses would have digital textbooks by the following fall.

"The $25 million, we are going to find," Steinberg said. "A $25 million investment for a $1 billion return is a no-brainer."

"This is something I will insist on as a high priority (during budget negotiations)," he added.

Earlier this year, the state of Washington adopted a similar $1.5 million program.

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