Congress Introduces Bill to Tackle College Textbook Costs while Renewing Open Textbook Pilot Grant Program
U.S. Federal Investments in Open Textbooks On Track to Save Students Millions While Meeting Basic Needs
In recognition of international Open Education Week, members of Congress reintroduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, a bicameral bill to address the cost of course materials for college students across the country. The bill would establish a competitive grant program to support the creation and use of free, openly licensed textbooks, while strengthening existing federal price disclosure requirements to help students and faculty make informed choices. Congress also cleared a federal spending package that includes $11 million in new funding for the successful Open Textbook Pilot grant program, which has distributed $24 million in federal funding to date for projects that are already saving students millions through open textbooks.
The Affordable College Textbook Act (H.R.7040/S.3818) is sponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), along with U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-02).
“The pandemic has underscored that students cannot learn from materials they cannot afford,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC. “It is time that we view learning materials as a basic need for students to be successful in higher education and leverage open textbooks to eliminate costs and expand access. SPARC applauds the sponsors of the Affordable College Textbook Act for answering calls from students across the country for meaningful action to help students manage the cost of textbooks.”
The Affordable College Textbook Act:
- Authorizes a grant program, similar to the Open Textbooks Pilot, to support projects at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for projects that will achieve the highest savings for students;
- Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using grant funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public, including individuals with disabilities;
- Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
- Improves and updates existing requirements for publishers and institutions that provide information on textbook costs for required materials to students on course schedules—including new disclosure requirements to students on how companies providing digital materials may use student data; and
- Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress with an update on the price trends of college textbooks and implementation of the disclosure requirements.
The Affordable College Textbook Act has been introduced in the last four Congresses, showing sustained support for the issue of textbook costs and open textbooks as a solution. The sponsors have worked to deliver immediate results for students by securing annual funding for the Open Textbook Pilot grant program, including the latest $11 million secured in the $1.5 trillion government spending package passed this week. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the Open Textbook Pilot program has awarded approximately $24 million in grants to 16 projects across multiple states, which are projected to save students an estimated $220 million—a substantial return on federal investment. The Department also recently issued guidance for the use of federal COVID relief (HEERF) funds that highlighted open educational resources as a strategy to meet basic student needs.
The use of open educational resources has continued to grow, as institutions and students across the country turned to quality online resources during the pandemic. A 2021 study by the Bay View Analytics found that 58% of faculty are aware of OER, and that 25% of faculty teaching introductory courses have assigned OER in at least one of their courses. There is also strong evidence that the use of OER can significantly increase course completion rates while maintaining learning performance. The new federal funding and pending legislation would support more students and faculty to benefit from these materials.College textbook prices have more than doubled in the last two decades 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 a 2016 report by U.S. PIRG, an estimated $3.15 billion in local, state and federal student financial aid is spent annually on textbooks.
SPARC is a non-profit advocacy organization working to make research and education open and equitable by design. Representing more than 240 academic and research library members, SPARC’s work is built on the premise that sharing knowledge is a human right. As a catalyst for action, SPARC works at the local, national and international level to change policies, educate and activate stakeholders, and incubate projects that advance a world where everyone can fully participate in research and education systems. Learn more at sparcopen.org.