Free Online Textbooks: A Small Step To Making College More Affordable

December 22, 2011

For many college students, textbooks are their largest single educational expense after tuition.For many college students, textbooks are their largest single educational expense after tuition. For some community college students, textbooks can be the single largest educational expense!

To ease that burden on students, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has proposed using money from the state’s general fund to help make certain textbooks available online for free. While this program could cost the state $25 million, the benefits, in Steinberg’s view, far outweigh the cost. With data showing that every dollar invested in higher education returns at least three times that amount to the California economy, Steinberg’s plan is exactly the kind of smart Gov 2.0 investment that takes scarce public dollars and maximizes their impact.

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Using Technology To Make Education More Accessible

We’ve often discussed the importance of technology to education — from using Twitter to help teachers gauge and engage their students’ progress to the Khan Academy’s amazing feats in online education to even using GroupOns to help make college more affordable. By making textbooks available free online, Steinberg would help students save thousands of dollars that can then be put into savings accounts or help offset the rising costs of UC and CSU college tuition.

While this would be a dream come true for many students, there is still the issue of the digital divide that’s leaving some students behind. Without regular access to the Internet, many of the students who would benefit most from free online textbooks would not even have access to it. So yes, having free online textbooks is a small step to making college more affordable, but closing the digital divide cannot be neglected from the conversation.


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