Thursday, October 8, 2015 News

SPARC Backs Bill to Make College Textbooks More Affordable

Open Education

For Immediate Release                                                               Contact:          Nicole Allen
October 8, 2015                                                                                               (202) 750-1637
[email protected]

SPARC Backs Bill to Make College Textbooks More Affordable 

Washington, D.C. — SPARC, an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to broaden access to academic knowledge, today applauded the introduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act of 2015, which would reduce the cost of college textbooks by expanding the use of open educational resources.  The bill was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Angus King (I-ME) and Representatives Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

Open educational resources (OER) are free, openly-licensed academic materials that everyone can use, adapt and share.

“Higher education is calling for solutions to the textbook costs crisis, and this bill provides an answer,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC.  “For too many students, textbook costs have become unaffordable, even with today’s cost saving measures like renting and used books.  It is time to focus on solutions that deliver meaningful, long-term savings for students, and open educational resources are the most effective path forward.  We’re grateful to Senators Durbin, Franken and King and Representatives Hinojosa and Polis for their leadership on to this important issue.”

The cost of textbooks has emerged as a significant piece of the college affordability and access debate.  Textbook prices increased 82% between 2002 and 2012, and the average student budget for books and supplies is more than $1,200 per year.  A recent report by NBC found that textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041 percent increase.  Despite the vast potential for technology and the internet to solve this problem, many e-textbooks and other digital materials from traditional publishers actively restrict much of this potential and perpetuate high costs.

Open educational resources are gaining traction as an alternative to costly textbooks. Hundreds of campuses across the country are already leveraging OER to increase access to course materials and reduce costs for students. The Maricopa Community College district in Arizona has saved students more than $4.5 million through faculty adoption of open textbooks. The University of Maryland University College recently became the first major U.S. institution to replace all textbooks in undergraduate courses with free online resources.

Numerous studies have documented that the use of OER can significantly reduce student costs while maintaining or improving academic success. A new multi-institution study published this month by researchers at Brigham Young University provides the most compelling case yet: students in more than half of the courses using OER did better than their peers in at least one measure of academic success, and the vast majority of courses performed at least as well.

“With open educational resources, we have a solution to the textbook cost crisis at our fingertips,” said Allen. “This bill would take a tremendous step toward expanding the benefits to students and faculty alike.  And in the mean time, there are many ways that institutions and states can begin leveraging the power of open educational resources today.”

About the Bill

The Affordable College and Textbook Act directs the Department of Education to create a competitive grant program for higher education institutions (or groups of higher education institutions) to establish pilot programs that use open educational resources to reduce textbook costs.  Pilot programs may focus on using existing OER, creating or improving new OER, or conducting efficacy research – or any combination thereof, so long as the end result is student savings.

Any educational materials developed or improved through the program will be posted online and licensed as open educational resources so that everyone – including other colleges, students and faculty – can freely use these materials.  The bill contains a strong definition of an open license that is equivalent to the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits full reuse rights on the condition of author attribution.  This license would ensure the public gains the maximum benefit of the materials created through the grant program.

The Affordable College Textbook Act was first introduced in the 113th Congress.  To learn more about the bill click here.


SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.  Developed by the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC has become a catalyst for change.  Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries.  More information can be found at and on Twitter @SPARC_NA.

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