Easing accessibility digitally

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By providing some post-secondary textbooks for free, the state of California will reverse some of the damage it’s done to students’ wallets in recent years.

Discussion surrounding an initiative of this sort began in 2009 and was finally approved by California governor Jerry Brown in late September.

He signed two bills that will fund the creation of a Digital Open Source Library, which will include 50 textbooks pertinent to first and second year students.

This is a positive step for the state and showcases their proactivity in making post-secondary education more accessible to all.

In California, tuition fees have risen by around 115 per cent since 2004, significantly increasing the cost of post-secondary education for students attending school in the state.

It’s also undeniable that the prices of textbooks are inflated and place an excessive strain on students, who oftentimes have to pay upwards of $1,000 for their books in one year.

Given the steep fees, having to pay for textbooks is often the breaking point for many Californian students which deters them away from pursuing a post-secondary education.

This legislation will hopefully encourage students who are financially-challenged to reconsider pursuing a college degree. A more educated population will surely benefit California in the long-run economically, creating a higher skilled workforce.

But putting the textbooks online does raise some questions regarding accessibility.

Will students be able to download the texts to their computers? Despite having access to print materials of the books at a lower cost, will students be able to highlight or take notes in the margin of the free online versions? In picking the format of the textbooks, those in charge of this initiative should be weary of these questions.

This legislation will unfortunately only benefit a given group of people. The chosen textbooks won’t be relevant to upper-year students, nor to students in other states.

It could also potentially spark a larger discussion surrounding free online textbooks in other parts of the world. In BC, the provincial government just recently legislated that they will offer a similar program to post-secondary students in the province, following in California’s footsteps.

California’s admirable initiative has the potential of encouraging students to further pursue their studies, while advancing online innovation in education. Ideally, this sort of innovation will spark other governments to follow suit.

— Journal Editorial Board

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