Depending on their area of study, students can spend up to $1,000 per semester on the books required for their classes. This year, the San Bernardino Community College District’s Books+ program is doing something to change that.

Responding to a report that seven out of 10 students lost some or all of their income during the pandemic, and that many of them tended to put off buying needed textbooks because of cost, the San Bernardino Community College Board decided some relief was necessary.

Using federal and state pandemic emergency funds, they opted to allow students to rent all required textbooks at no charge. The Books+ program is available to the 15,000 students at Crafton Hills and San Bernardino Valley Colleges. Just as significantly for many students, the program includes no-cost rentals for required equipment such as goggles, lab coats, and electronic devices, as well as books.

The program began in Fall 2021 and will continue through the Spring 2022 semester. All students in the district are eligible to participate, regardless of income or whether they’re studying full- or part-time.

“California does a great job of keeping community college tuition down. Ironically, that means that sometimes books can be more expensive than the class itself,” says Angel Rodriguez, M.Ed., spokesperson for the San Bernardino Community College District.  “We wanted to help students economically and get them to the finish line.”

For Crafton Hills nursing student Lauren Ashlock ’22, saving money is only a small part of what makes the program special. “I think the biggest thing is that it makes the students feel valued and supported, especially if they have other expenses,” she says. “Now, we can just focus on taking the class and not worry about the texts.”

Books+ is structured to be as simple as possible, and there is no paperwork to fill out. Once students register for a class, the course materials list is automatically sent to the campus bookstore.

“I registered for my classes, and a few days later got an email telling me to pick up my books,” recalls San Bernardino Valley student Elena Sanchez Paez. Last semester, she spent $260 on books. This year’s savings are a big plus, she says, because she’s had to buy a car.

When the materials are ready, students will receive a notification to pick up their books. All materials—with the exception of workbooks—must be returned at the end of the semester, or sooner if the student decides to drop the course