Monday, June 21, 2021 News

Texas Adopts Transparency Measure for Automatic Textbook Billing

Open Education

SPARC applauds Texas for adopting the nation’s first transparency law for the costs and data collection practices associated with automatic textbook billing.

The U.S. state of Texas has enacted the nation’s first law to increase transparency for automatic textbook billing programs. Sponsored by Representative Tan Parker and Senator Brandon Creighton, House Bill 1027 received bipartisan approval from the state legislature last month and was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbot last week.

Often marketed using the term “inclusive access,” automatic textbook billing is the practice of charging the cost of digital course materials to a student’s tuition and fee bill. While some of these programs are implemented on a voluntary “opt-in” basis, others are implemented without confirming a student’s consent, which can lead to unexpected charges and limited ability to seek cost-saving alternatives such as used books. Moreover, these programs effectively force students to accept the publisher’s terms of service, which can open the door to the extensive collection and processing of their personal data.

HB 1027 requires that Texas public colleges and universities explicitly disclose within the institution’s course schedule the fee amount, student data terms of use, and opt-out procedure for course materials that will be automatically billed, along with other associated charges. HB 1027 also requires institutions to itemize any course material fees charged to student accounts and ensures that relevant vendor agreements are public records. The bill builds on the state’s existing textbook transparency law, which is already among the strongest in the nation, and will apply beginning with the 2022 fall semester. 

Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education, issued the following statement on behalf of SPARC:

“SPARC applauds Texas for adopting the nation’s first transparency law for the costs and data collection practices associated with automatic textbook billing. Large price tags aren’t the only problem students face with textbooks. With the introduction of so-called ‘inclusive access’ programs, students now have to watch for hidden fees, confusing opt-outs, and terms of service that let publishers gather vast amounts of their personal information. HB 1027 equips students with vital information before choosing courses, so that they know their options and can seek alternatives.

“SPARC would like to thank Representative Tan Parker and Senator Brandon Creighton for their leadership to bring transparency to automatic textbook billing, along with the student leaders from across Texas who mobilized in support of this bill. 

“While transparency provides an important foundation, higher education must do more to ensure that new course material models are driven by the needs of students and faculty—not the bottom line of publishers and national bookstore chains. That includes implementing more ‘opt-in’ models, banning sales quotas in vendor agreements, and ensuring that discounts and advertised benefits are rigorously verified. In the upcoming year, we hope to see more states adopt strong legislation to make automatic textbook billing transparent, accountable, and fair to students.”

In addition to the authors of HB 1027, SPARC would also like to thank Representative Donna Howard and Senator Larry Taylor for introducing complementary legislation that would set strong standards for student consumer protection in automatic textbook billing agreements. We hope their proposed legislation will be considered as a next step when the Texas legislature reconvenes in two years.

SPARC is a global advocacy organization working to make research and education open and equitable by design—for everyone. For additional state policy recommendations to increase affordability, access, and equity for course materials, download the SPARC OER State Policy Playbook. For further comments, contact Nicole Allen at [email protected] or 202-750-1637.

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