Steinberg Proposal Slashes Textbook Costs for California College Students

December 13, 2011

Joined by students, educators and other supporters, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg has announced proposed legislation to establish a 21st century project that could save California college students hundreds of millions of dollars a year in their costs for higher education.

At a time when the affordability of higher education is at the forefront of national debate, this legislation would create Open Educational Resources (OER) in California, where undergraduate students would be able to have free access to the 50 core textbooks required for lower-division coursework via computer or mobile device through a digital open source library, with the option of buying a printed version for around $20. The legislation would also require publishers selling textbooks adopted by faculty for the most widely-taken lower division courses to provide at least three free copies of those books to be placed on reserve in California public college and university campus libraries.

“There’s a clarion call from students and middle class families to make higher education more accessible and affordable. 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,” said Steinberg. “If we can use technology to maintain the high quality of materials while cutting the cost, we need to do it. Open source digital textbooks can bring real relief of nearly $1,000 a year to each college student.”

Dr. Barbara Illowsky of De Anza College has already authored “Collaborative Statistics,” an interactive open digital textbook provided free to students. At Lake Tahoe Community College, Dr. Larry Green has integrated that text into his curriculum.

“Choosing to adopt an enhanced digital OER textbook for my students spares them several thousands of dollars in combined textbook expenses,” said Professor Green. “The book’s academic quality is comparable, if not better, than the pricey versions being offered by publishers. Many students tell me the savings allow them to reduce their hours at work and focus more time on learning the challenging mathematics involved in my class."

The legislation would create a competitive “Request for Proposals” (RFP) process inviting faculty, publishers and others to develop high quality digital open source textbooks and related courseware. The materials would be placed under a “Creative Commons” licensing structure that would not only allow students and faculty free access, but would also allow instructors to create customized materials from the textbooks and other courseware. To ensure the materials meet the rigorous standards of college core curricula, that material would be reviewed and approved by subject matter experts.  

The enormous cost savings for students also translates into greater efficiencies in the use of California student aid. Cal Grant B recipients are currently allotted a $1551 annual stipend for books and living expenses. By significantly reducing textbook costs, the students will have more resources to cover the array of others costs necessary for pursuing higher education.  

During the Tuesday press conference, students unveiled an online petition they have begun circulating, calling on legislators and college faculty to support the creation and use of OER textbooks and course materials: http://www.change.org/petitions/affordable-textbooks-now

The concept of OER as a means to reduce textbook costs and bring higher education into the 21st century has been supported by educational foundations for nearly a decade. The Twenty Million Minds Foundation, under the leadership of former-Senator Dean Florez, has been instrumental in promoting innovative strategies to lower the costs of books for our college students.  

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