Legislation Would Create Program to Save Students Millions
Washington, D.C. (March 28, 2023) — SPARC, a non-profit advocacy organization working to make education and research open and equitable, today applauded the reintroduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act in the U.S. Congress. The bill would address a key but often overlooked factor in the cost of higher education—the cost of textbooks—by establishing a grant program for the creation and use of free, openly licensed textbooks, while also strengthening federal price disclosure requirements for textbook publishers and institutions. If passed, the program would build on the success of the Open Textbook Pilot which is already projected to save students an estimated $250 million since its creation in 2018.
“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. By supporting the creation and use of open educational resources, this bill will deliver meaningful, long-term savings for students. We are grateful to Senators Durbin, Smith, King and Sinema, and Representative Neguse for their leadership on this important issue.
Open educational resources (OER) are educational materials that are distributed at no cost with legal permission to freely use, share, and build upon the content.
The Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced into both chambers of Congress by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO). The bill would:
- Authorize a grant program, similar to the Open Textbook Pilot program for which Congress already has appropriated $47 million, to support projects at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
- Ensure that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be free and easily accessible to the public;
- Require entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
- Improve and update existing requirements for publishers and institutions that provide information on textbook costs, including new disclosure requirements to students on how companies providing digital materials may use student data; and
- Require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.
The Affordable College Textbook Act has been considered in the last five Congresses, showing significant support for the issue of textbook costs and open textbooks as a solution. While the bill’s prospects have been tied to the broader Higher Education Act reauthorization process, the sponsors have worked to deliver immediate results for students by securing annual funding for the Open Textbook Pilot grant program since 2018. Distributed by the U.S. Department of Education, the Open Textbook Pilot has funded 18 projects over five years, which are projected to save students an estimated $250 million—a substantial return on federal investment.
“Reducing textbook costs will increase access to 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.”
The use of open educational resources has continued to grow, as more institutions provide support. A 2022 study by Bay View Analytics found that 67% of faculty have some level of awareness of OER, and that 31% 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.
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 250 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