TIS the season for families of high school seniors to eagerly await those college offers to come in, like so many holiday cards. Many students and their families will make a decision partly based on what they can afford.

It's not uncommon for four-years of college tuition to cost more than $100,000. For a Cal State, once seen as affordable, tuition will top $30,000 due to recent fee raises. The UCs are already topping $52,000. With the state budget going back into the red, even higher tuition is expected at the 23 CSUs and 10 UCs.

While the state Legislature is not helping to keep tuition down - in fact it is doing the opposite by cutting funding to these institutions - there may be a way the Legislature can help ease the financial burden on middle class kids attending college. How? By dropping the price of college textbooks. Textbooks are a "hidden cost" that can cost $5,000 on average per each student's four-year run. Making a dent in this expense can help in a small way.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has vowed to introduce legislation making it mandatory for all state universities to offer textbooks online. These new "open education resources" textbooks would be free to students online, or cost about $20 for printed versions.

This is an idea whose time has come. Not only would it stop the gouging of students by textbook publishers, but it would offer some relief to students and their families paying skyrocketing tuition costs.

We were glad to learn that CSU Chancellor Charles Reed liked the idea, according to CSU spokesperson Claudia Keith. Also, it's an excellent move for the CSUs to be piloting new digital textbook programs at Cal State East Bay, for example. There, the university gives students iPads and lets them download digital textbooks. "It is cheaper than buying (printed versions) of textbooks," Keith told our editorial board.

As our sister newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, recently reported, the cost of textbooks have doubled in the last 20 years. The standard political science textbook, "Understanding American Government," today typically costs $169.70. The biology book used by CSU undergraduates is now $202.50. For Algebra II, it's $166.70.

We applaud Steinberg and the CSU for trying out innovative solutions to help students save money on textbooks. The CSUs are also working on creating partnerships with publishing houses to put more textbooks online. They are focusing on subjects such as biology, chemistry and math, subjects with the most expensive textbooks.

Just this August, students at Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Northridge and Chico began using a fully interactive, multi-media digital biology textbook sold for only $49. The CSUs promise more digital textbooks in the future.

Any help the Legislature can bring our best and brightest at local state colleges and universities is worth the trouble and cost.