Bellevue College wins federal grant for electronic textbooks

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Bellevue College a $783,000 grant to pilot “The 21st Century Bookstore,” a new strategy to lower costs for college students by renting netbook laptops preloaded with electronic textbooks.

It could save a full-time student as much as $600 per year.

The program, which initially will target low-income students, will save each participant at least 60 percent off the cost of the equivalent hard-copy materials.

“Textbook prices have risen so high that it’s not uncommon for students to pay $1,000 or more for books every year,” said Kristen Connely, director of the Bellevue College bookstore. “A 60 percent savings on that is a substantial amount of money.”

The quarterly rental fee of $35 will include the netbook and digital class materials for one course. Students may rent additional titles for further savings.

The two-year pilot project will serve 500 students per quarter beginning September 2011.

Awarded through the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE), the grant will underwrite project startup costs, including purchase of digital course materials, software, netbooks and other equipment.

Once underway, the project is expected to be fully self-sustaining financially.

The program will funnel two types of savings to students:  savings achieved by using digital materials, which are less expensive than their printed counterparts, and savings from renting, rather than buying, the materials.

The rental fee for the netbook and software, together, will be far less than the cost to buy the digital materials, alone.

Bellevue College is the only college or university in the nation to earn support under both rounds of FIPSE funding for textbook rental pilot projects.

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