Model Language for Fair Access to College Textbooks

The cost of college textbooks and digital materials is a significant barrier for many students. Higher education institutions have employed many strategies to address this problem. Some models, like open educational resources, are helping to drive costs down by replacing expensive textbooks with high quality, free materials. Other approaches, such as the sales model known as “Inclusive Access,” are seeking to automatically bill the cost of textbooks into tuition and fees, creating a number of new challenges that can make it harder for students to afford their books and protect their privacy in the digital environment.

SPARC offers a model policy that would ensure transparency and fair practices for automatic textbook billing programs and promote awareness of open educational resources. The language is designed to be modular, so that policymakers can pick and choose which components are right for their state.

For more information on SPARC’s state policy program, contact [email protected].

Model policy features:

  • Ensures transparency for the price, terms for student data collection and use, and authorization process for automatic course material charges when students are registering for courses.
  • For automatic course material charges calculated per credit hour or other flat cost, additionally ensures that a charge is not assessed for courses that use free-of-cost materials such as OER.
  • Ensures that agreements with publishers and other vendors related to automatic charges meet certain criteria, including making them public records and ensuring limitations on harmful “quota” systems and vendor exploitation of student data.
  • Requires institutions to identify in the online course schedule any courses that use open educational resources (which are free of cost to students) and enable students to search for these courses using a filter.
  • Requires institutions that identify courses that use “low cost” materials in their online course schedule to disclose the criteria used, so that students are aware what the institution considers low cost.

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