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Affordable College Textbook Act Reintroduced in Congress
Bill Would Significantly Reduce Higher Education Costs and Support Student Success
Washington, D.C. (April 4, 2019) — SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to broaden access to knowledge, today applauded the reintroduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act in the U.S. Congress. The bill aims to make higher education more affordable for students by expanding the use and awareness of open educational resources (OER) — high quality academic materials that can be freely downloaded, edited and shared to better serve all students.
“Textbook costs are an overlooked barrier to getting a college degree,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC. “Course materials are meant to help students learn, but too often the expense stands in the way. Open educational resources are the gold standard for expanding equitable access to course materials while supporting greater flexibility for faculty.”
The bill was introduced into both chambers of Congress today by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL),Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO). First unveiled in 2013, the bill has been reintroduced in the past four Congresses.
Congress took a first step in support of OER last year by appropriating $10 million for Open Textbook Pilot grants through the U.S. Department of Education. These grants have since proved that every dollar invested in OER can achieve even greater savings—the first three funded projects expect to save students at least $30 million within the next five years. The Affordable College Textbook Act would go further by providing permanent authorization for an open textbook grant program. The bill would also direct institutions of higher education to include information about OER in course schedules, increasing transparency so that students can make more informed decisions.
Open educational resources have been gaining ground at higher education institutions across the country as evidence of the benefits grows, although there is still a need for more support. A study by the Babson Survey Research Group released earlier this year found that 46% of faculty have some level of awareness of OER and that 13% have assigned OER to their students. A recent study at the University of Georgia found that students using open textbooks get better grades and higher course completion rates than their peers using traditional materials. The improvements were even greater for students receiving Pell grants, a group more likely to face financial barriers while pursuing higher education.
“Reducing textbook costs is a way we can help students afford higher education right now,” said Allen. “Unlike so many other challenges we face, there is a solution at our fingertips with open educational resources. This bill will accelerate the awareness and adoption of open materials to save students millions. We are grateful to Senators Durbin, Smith, King and Sinema, and Representative Neguse for their leadership on this important issue.”
College textbook prices have more than doubled in the last fifteen years according to the Consumer Price Index, and the average student budget for books and supplies at a four-year public institution is $1,240 according to the College Board. Surveys have found that nearly two-thirds of students skip buying required materials because the cost is too high, even though most said they recognize doing so could hurt their grades. According to U.S. PIRG, an estimated $3.15 billion in local, state and federal student financial aid is spent annually on textbooks.
SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is a global coalition committed to making Open the default for research and education. SPARC empowers people to solve big problems and make new discoveries through the adoption of policies and practices that advance Open Access, Open Data, and Open Education. Learn more at sparcopen.org.