The Affordable College Textbook Act (H.R.2107/S.1036)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 116th Congress on April 4, 2019 Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO). The text can be viewed here.
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:
- Authorizes a grant program, similar to the Open Textbooks Pilot program for which Congress appropriated $10 million over the last two fiscal years, 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.
- 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 and updates existing requirements for publishers and institutions that provides information on textbook costs for required materials to students on course schedules.
- Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.
The rising cost of textbooks and course materials is a significant but often overlooked barrier to affording a college degree. 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.
Open educational resources have been gaining ground at higher education institutions across the country as evidence of the benefits grows. A study by the Babson Survey Research Group 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.
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.
The bill has been introduced in the 113rd, 114th, 115th, and now 116th Congresses.