Students Eye Free Digital Textbook Proposal

By Post Staff

University students are giving mixed grades to a plan by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to create an online free digital library to reduce costs of course materials for college students across the state.
Steinberg, a Sacramento  Democrat, is proposing a law that would lower costs for students struggling to cope with higher fees and tuition rates at California’s public colleges and universities. “We know that the costs of higher education are skyrocketing. Fees have gone up significantly in recent years, and we must do something about it,” Steinberg said at a recent press conference. “But too often overlooked are other costs that make higher education hard to afford.”
The introduction of Internet-based textbooks would be a mixed blessing, according to Dominique Barnes, a student at San Jose State University: “I think that there is an upside and downside with this legislation,” she said. “On the upside it would help those who are struggling to pay for their books which are very expensive. But I think the downside is that we will become too dependent on technology. I think that they should offer paper copies for free to the students.”
Steinberg said the average student spends $1,300 a year on textbooks, a figure his staff said is based on projections the University of California,California State University and community college systems provide to students for budgeting purposes.
Under his proposal, materials for 50 common lower division courses would be developed and posted online for free student access. Ordering a paper copy would cost $20, compared to the $200-plus-price tag carried by some books.
Any proposals that would actually lower textbook costs would be a godsend to college students, says Chanelle Bell, a student at Fordham University in New York City. “Books are outrageously expensive especially considering that most of the textbooks are only used for a semester or a quarter,” she said. “Students are constantly being ripped off. School bookstores sell us the books at a high price, and then when it is time to sell back the books they will only pay for a fraction of what they made us buy them for. We should encourage people to attend college, not discourage them by making school books too expensive to afford.”
Steinberg plans to seek $25million to create his proposed Open Education Resources system, with some funding going towards soliciting course material contributions from academics, nonprofits, Silicon Valley developers and the book publishing industry to be shared freely within the system. A new council of faculty leaders from the California’s public higher education system would be tasked with selecting the courses for the first round of open source textbook development and reviewing and approving the materials added to the library.
While the proposal to reduce textbook costs is good, it does not solve the basic problem, said Tasion Kwamilele a graduate student at UC Berkeley.  “Although this is a great idea, I must stress that tuition prices must be lowered as well. It makes no difference if the textbooks are free if the student cannot afford to pay the tuition.”

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