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More courses with free textbooks coming to San Diego Community College District, officials say

The San Diego Community College District plans to adapt 20 courses in high-demand areas to feature free textbooks for students, thanks to a new $975,000 federal grant.

It’s the latest effort by the community college district to lower students’ textbook costs, which officials say often exceed the cost of tuition at the district ($46 per unit). Officials say it will help up to 60,000 students attending San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar Colleges.

Nationwide, the average two-year public college student spends $1,460 on books and supplies, according to the College Board.

Many San Diego community college students are already facing economic hardships besides paying for their education. About 43 percent of students said they face food insecurity and 59 percent face housing insecurity, according to a 2020 survey.

The textbook affordability problem is also disproportionately affecting students of color. Latino, Black and Filipino students in the district were more likely to report that textbook costs are negatively impacting them.

“For many, a $200 to $300 textbook can be the difference between whether a student has enough to eat, can gas up their car, or even pay the rent. Multiple that by four, five or even six classes each semester, and those costs really compound,” said Edward Borek, who was the Associated Student Government president last school year at Miramar College.

Community college officials say they have already been working to lower textbook costs for years.

One out of five classes in the community college district already use free or low-cost ($40 or under) textbooks. About 15 percent of classes use free digital textbooks.

These classes are the first to fill up during course enrollment, and the district estimates they save students about $3 million a year in textbook costs.

The $975,000 grant comes from a U.S. Congress community project funding pool requested by Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego).

Using this grant, a team of college faculty, part-time employees and an instructional designer will convert courses with paid textbooks to courses that use no-cost textbooks by editing and adapting materials and course designs, said Brian Weston, the district’s dean of online and distributed learning.

The district plans to offer the first five to 10 courses next spring, said district spokesperson Jack Beresford.

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