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The Affordable College Textbook Act (S.1704/H.R.3538) will 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 use, adapt and share freely.
Higher education is essential to the future of our workforce, economy and citizenry, yet many college students today are unable to access their required course materials due to rapidly rising costs. Textbook prices skyrocketed 82% between 2002 and 2012, and the average student budget for books and supplies has grown to $1,207 annually. Even cost-cutting measures like renting and used books are becoming too expensive, and major publishers are using digital technology to further restrict, rather than improve, access for students. The result is that textbook costs have become simply unaffordable for too many students, and in some cases a barrier to academic success.
Congress took an initial step to address this issue in 2008 with provisions in the Higher Education Opportunity Act to improve textbook price transparency. But a recent GAO report (June 2013) concluded that while somewhat successful in helping some students achieve incremental savings, the bill did little to control overall costs.
The solution to skyrocketing textbook prices is to leverage today's technology to reduce costs and expand access. The most effective path forward is open educational resources (OERs), which are free, online academic materials that are released under a license permitting everyone to use, adapt, and share the content. OER textbooks, or "open textbooks," are available online at no cost and in print at a low cost. Using these materials in place of expensive textbooks can dramatically reduce costs while enabling the full benefits of digital technology for students.
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:
Supporters: SPARC, U.S. PIRG, National Association of College Stores, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, OUR TIME, Creative Commons, OpenCourseWare Consortium.
The U.S. college textbook market remains dominated by traditional publishing firms that make it difficult for open textbooks to gain visibility – despite the potential benefits and growing international movement for OERs. While enough professors are using open textbooks to suggest marketplace demand for such materials, the current rate of adoption is too slow when so many students are struggling with textbook costs. Federal intervention is necessary to help open textbooks gain a foothold faster, which would provide much-needed financial relief and raise the bar for digital materials to ensure students receive the full benefits of today's technology.
The Affordable College Textbook Act seeks to proliferate the most successful open textbook efforts to date: local programs at colleges and universities that provide support for creating and adopting open textbooks and other OERs. By providing resources and incentives through a grant program, the bill would expand the impact of open textbooks to more campuses in more states, helping to stimulate the marketplace and to generate evidence for the most effective models.