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California colleges could have more open-source digital textbooks beginning in 2013 if Gov. Jerry Brown signs two bills sitting on his desk.
SB 1052 and SB 1053 would bring the University of California, the California State University and the California Community Colleges together to find or develop open education resources. Private and independent institutions also would participate. These open education resources include textbooks, videos and simulations that others can use because they are licensed under an open copyright license or are in the public domain.
A major driver for this legislation, authored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, is to cut college textbook costs for students. A 2008 California Bureau of State Auditor Report said California State University students paid $812 a year for textbooks. A 2012 California State University report estimated that its students now pay about $1,000 each year for textbooks.
"The main impetus is to be able to maintain the high standards of our college and university systems while trying to provide some relief to students," said Mark Hedlund, communications director of Steinberg's office. "We think that this has great potential to meet both of those goals."
And another piece involves taking advantage of today's technology.
While publishers initially opposed the bill, they withdrew their opposition after a provision was removed. This provision would have required them to provide at least three copies of each textbook at no charge to the library reserves for students to check out.
If these bills are signed, students won't be charged for using the digital copies of the adopted textbooks, and they'll have the option to buy a printed copy for $20. They will be able to give their input on the selection process for open source material.
But the state Assembly clarified that faculty members wouldn't be required to use the textbooks that are developed. And that's important.
"We don't want to be stepping on academic freedom," Hedlund said.
So if many faculty choose not to use these textbooks, students won't see significant cost savings. However, because faculty members make up the council in charge of this process, the senator's office thinks that most of them will be satisfied with the materials' rigor and be open to cutting student costs.
SB 1052 would establish a California Open Education Resources Council to create a list of 50 lower-division courses that would get a new textbook. The council would be made up of three faculty members from each higher education system who would be appointed by their faculty senates. And these members would choose courses that:
The digital textbooks developed or acquired for these courses would make their home in the California Open Source Digital Library, which SB 1053 would establish.
But here's the catch: These bills don't provide funding for either the textbook creation or the library. SB 1052 alone comes with a price tag of around $25 million, according to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. And the library startup cost is estimated in the low millions, while ongoing costs could be $400,000.
That means the council and the library would need funding from the annual budget act, another statute, federal soures or private sources. Otherwise, the resources and the library won't happen.
On Friday, Aug. 31, the Legislature sent SB 1052 and 1053 to the governor's desk, along with SB 1028, a budget trailer bill on education finance. Among other things, SB 1028 would appropriate $5 million from the Golden State ScholarShare Trust Fund to the Chancellor of the California State University. This money would go to create and maintain the California Open Education Resources Council and the California Digital Open Sources Library, as well as develop and acquire open education resources.
The $5 million has to be matched, dollar for dollar, with private funds before it can be spent. Washington did something similar to what California's doing with these bills and was able to get seed money from an education foundation. Steinberg's office said its likely that education foundations and other sources will do the same for California.
But the fate of these three bills depends on the governor's signature. And Brown doesn't like to show his cards. He has until the end of September to act on these bills.
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