With the cost of textbooks continuing to rise, and many students struggling to make ends meet in today’s economy, many schools are trying to offer deals on textbooks. Most of them aren’t terribly helpful. Textbook alternatives are created by textbook publishers and, while perhaps slightly cheaper than the new versions, are still very expensive. Washington State may have found an alternative.

According to an article by Katherine Long in the Seattle Times:

Here’s an idea that would take a big bite out of the cost of a two-year college degree:

Gather state community-college faculty members who teach “English Composition I.” Use state and federal grant money to pay them to assemble a top-notch textbook on the subject. Sell a digital version of the book for $30. Ditch the $100 textbook from commercial publishers.

This is part of a general effort in Washington to use more open-source material. Called the Open Course Library, the goal is to bring together all the material from the state’s most popular community college courses and offer them at low cost to students.

Part of the reason that materials will be cheap is that they’re electronic. “Because they’re digital, books produced this way could be adapted or updated on the fly to fit different classes. The books would be owned by the public, since public funds were used to create them,” according to the article.

But actually it’s not so much that the material is digital, though that helps; it’s really just that Washington has eliminated the commercial publisher from the equation. If the books are owned by the public no one’s going to throw a big markup on them.

So far Washington is one of the few states to invest in open-source textbooks. The state received $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the initiative. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer