Over the past year we have seen legislation related to Open Educational Resources (OER) gain momentum in state legislatures across the country. As it becomes more difficult to move legislation at the federal level, state legislation has emerged as an attractive avenue for OER advocacy. State legislation can serve a variety of positive purposes in advancing OER. To name a few, legislatures can appropriate funds to increase OER use at public colleges and universities or require colleges and universities to indicate OER use in course catalogues. As the cost to attend college becomes a larger concern in the policy arena, legislators are particularly interested in affordable measures to offset costs. It is within this context that we find the majority of discussions on state OER policies taking place.
Most of the state legislation filed related to OER has been positive, but we have also been following a publisher-backed strategy promoting large digital discount deals that have made their way into a few states. In the next few months, SPARC will release open data on bills we have tracked from 2015-2017 with trends and policy recommendations. This blog will outline themes in bills that were passed or introduced in 2017 and bills that are still in play in legislatures that have not yet adjourned.
In 2017, more than 70 bills related to OER were filed in 28 states. Major victories for OER occurred through enacted legislation in Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, and New York during the 2017 legislative sessions. Here are the highlights:
- SB 810 (Texas): Added OER to existing state statute promoting textbook price transparency and awareness of textbook affordability, and also authorized a grant program for OER at public institutions and a feasibility study of a statewide repository. While no appropriation was provided, the grant program may still be carried out within existing resources.
- SB 258 (Colorado): Created a council on OER to evaluate the existing use of OER in the state and make recommendations. The state will hire a contractor to carry out the study.
- SB 424 (Maryland): Directed $100K toward the University System of Maryland’s open textbook initiative.
- HB 1375 (Washington): Added a new requirement to indicate OER in course catalogs at the state’s community and technical colleges. California adopted similar legislation last year, and a similar provision was also included in Texas’s SB 810 above.
- SB 2 (New York): Appropriated $8M to SUNY and CUNY to provide OER to students.
Although many positive OER bills have passed or gained traction, there have been other not so helpful bills introduced and even passed in other states. These bills include language peddled by the publishing industry to encourage the spread of “digital discount” or automatic purchasing programs—where students are directly billed for course materials as a fee. Legislation to this effect was passed in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and introduced in Illinois and Pennsylvania. California still has a bill under consideration, which would direct the governing boards of public institutions to develop policies for the adoption of so-called “innovative pricing models.” This trend harkens back to the start of big deal journal subscriptions in the late ‘90’s, and is something that SPARC will be tracking closely into the next legislative session.
2017 did see great progress on the OER front in our state legislatures while bringing to light bills of concern. From Texas to New York we saw states step up their commitments to affordable higher education through OER. This uptick in state OER bills means we’re doing more than just securing new funds, we’re educating legislators, institutions, and students about the benefits of Open. Stay tuned for SPARC’s OER State Legislation resource and data that will be available on GitHub. If you have specific questions about this research, feel free to contact me: [email protected]