The Affordable College Textbook Act (H.R.7040/S.3818) 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 117th Congress on March 10, 2022 by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO).
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, 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 considered in the last four 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 16 projects over four years, 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.
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.
The use of open educational resources continued to grow during the pandemic as institutions and students across the country turned to quality online resources. A 2021 study by the Babson Survey Research Group found that 58% of faculty have some level of awareness 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.