Darrell Steinberg was inspired to come up with a ground-breaking bill after hearing stories of students saying it cost as much as $1,300 a year for textbooks.
The California senator is the author of a bill that promises to make required textbooks free online to thousands of students. His bill, which was signed by the governor and becomes law in January, asks the state and private sponsors to finance 50 digital textbooks that first- and second-year students generally use.
Because the government has cut its contributions to the operating budgets of universities and colleges, tuition in the state climbed by 115 per cent between 2004 and 2011 for a four-year program at a post-secondary institution, according to the College Board, a non-profit organization that collects statistics about education.
"Students were telling us they were forced to drop classes or drop out of school entirely because they couldn't afford the books," Mr. Steinberg said. He called it "mind-blowing" to hear about how much students were spending. "The answer became clear that we could make a big impact if we could somehow pare down the exorbitant costs of textbooks," he added.
Under the bill, a council of faculty members will be formed next year to select the 50 textbooks with input from students. A digital library will be created to house the open-source textbooks and provide a Web-based way for students to access it. Students will have the option of buying the printed version for $20.
Mr. Steinberg hopes that at least some of the materials will be available to students by the beginning of the next academic year.
"We always think of new technology being more expensive. But in the case of college textbooks, the highest cost is actually attached to the centuries-old technology of a printed book," he said.