Innovative (and Cheaper) Digital Textbook Program Offered to CSU Students

In what is perhaps the most innovative approach to one of higher education’s most frustrating issues — the absurdly expensive cost of textbooks — the California State University (CSU) has opted to do an exchange with publisher Cenage Learning, who sells upwards of a quarter-million books to CSU students.

“We’ll advertise your brand — you give us a discount.”

It’s shockingly simple but entirely progressive: while the CSU will advertise Cenage in everything from posters to teacher memos, some 5,000 eTextbooks will now be accessible to students at rental costs of 60% off their hardcover edition. That puts a book that typically costs $160 at about $60 for the student. Of course, the term “rental” has its boundaries: the students have the eBook for the academic semester/quarter but to address the students’ need to have permanent copies, the books will have a printer accessibility if the student wishes to use it.

This digital rental program is part of a nation-wide address of simmering down the costs of text books that evaporating students’ own wallets. Rice University has led the innovation with its offering of entirely free textbooks for key courses like Introduction to Physics and Introduction to Sociology. Their initiative is a bit different than the CSU’s: in collaboration with major philanthropist organizations, they literally bought the ownership of the books and offered the distribution rights to Rice.

One of the many organizations involved was the 20 Million Minds Foundation, which is headed by former California Senate majority leader Dean Florez, who recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that the CSU must take another step forward to offer entirely free and open-source textbooks.

The CSU’s digital rental program is just one facet of the system’s Affordable Learning Solutions initiative. Launched in 2010, Affordable Learning Solutions is guided by the three key principles of choice, affordability and accessibility to provide students with more affordable course materials while offering greater access to no-cost or low-cost academic content for faculty.

Under the initiative, the CSU has produced innovative business strategies and technologies that drive down the cost of learning resources for students while offering greater access to no- or low-cost academic content for faculty. In 2011-12, CSU saved students approximately $62 million by providing lower and no-cost print and digital alternatives to new textbooks and that figure is expected to increase to almost $118 million in savings for students through the shift of using digital alternatives to textbooks.

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