Policy & Advocacy

The Affordable College Textbook Act

Open Education

The Affordable College Textbook Act would reduce the cost of textbooks at U.S. colleges and universities by expanding the use of open textbooks (and other Open Educational Resources) that everyone can download, edit and share freely to benefit students. The legislation was introduced in the 115th Congress as H.R. 3840 sponsored by Representatives Polis (D-CO) with cosponsors Sinema (D-AZ), Curbelo (R-FL), and Nolan (D-MN) and and S. 1864 sponsored by Senator Durbin (D-IL) with cosponsors King (I-ME) and Smith (D-MN) in the Senate. The bill did not advance during the 115th Congress, but is expected to be reintroduced in the 116th Congress in early 2019.


The rising cost of textbooks and course materials is a significant but often overlooked barrier to affording a college degree. Textbook prices skyrocketed 88% between 2006 and 2016  and the average student budget for books and supplies has grown to more than $1,200 annually. Despite the availability of used books, renting, and digital subscriptions, these costs still contribute to rising student debt, and not having access to required materials can compromise student success.

Congress took an initial step to address textbook costs in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, adding Section 133 to improve textbook price transparency. A GAO report in 2013 concluded that while successful in helping students get access to better information, overall costs continued to rise.

Colleges and universities across the country are beginning to address this problem through the use of open textbooks and open educational resources (OER), which are freely available academic materials that can be downloaded, edited shared to better serve all students. This idea may once have been a vision, but today it is a reality. There are more than 500 open textbooks used by thousands of professors to save students millions. Yet, most professors still remain unaware that these kinds of resources exist, and the rate of adoption is too slow when so many students are struggling with textbook costs. Colleges and universities must do more to develop models for expanding the creation, use, and continuous improvement of open textbooks at a larger scale, and share these materials and best practices with others.

About the Bill

The Affordable College Textbook Act seeks to expand the use of open textbooks on college campuses, providing affordable alternatives to traditional textbooks and keeping prices lower.  The bill:

  • Creates a grant program to support pilot programs 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.
  • Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public.
  • Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students.
  • Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to provide an updated report on the price trends of college textbooks to Congress.

The bill has been introduced in the 113rd, 114th and 115th Congresses.

Supporters: U.S. PIRG, SPARC, National Association of College Stores, Association of Big Ten Students, Young Invincibles, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community, College Trustees, UNCF, Creative Commons, Association of Research Libraries, Association of College Research Libraries

Why Open Textbooks?

  • Open textbooks are the most effective way to reduce textbook costs. While the existing marketplace offers discounted options such as renting and used books, the savings are incremental and do not extend to every student. In contrast, using open textbooks has the potential to save students $100 per course and collectively more than one billion dollars per year.
  • Open textbooks are easy to access in a variety of formats – a critical feature in the digital age that traditionally-published e-books have yet to offer. Students can freely access open textbooks anytime, anywhere, either online or by downloading to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Students can keep digital versions permanently, and also can print or purchase hardcopies, typically for $20-40.
  • A multi-institution study found that students in more than half of courses using OER did better than their peers in at least one measure of academic success, and the vast majority of courses performed at least as well.
  • Professors can tailor open textbooks to align with course needs. This includes mixing and matching chapters from multiple open texts, incorporating multimedia components, and adding current events and locally relevant perspectives. This flexibility is also beneficial beyond the college setting for parents, teachers, and self-learners.
  • Supporting the creation and adoption of open textbooks produces a significant return on investment. Unlike traditional e-texts, which are typically rented, once created, open textbooks are free for everyone – so the savings grow over time.


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