SPARC Applauds Senators Durbin and Franken for Bill to Make College Textbooks More Affordable

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Nicole Allen
OER Program Director, SPARC

November 14, 2013


Nicole Allen

Washington, D.C. – The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) today applauded Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) for introducing the Affordable College Textbook Act of 2013 (S. 1704), which would reduce the cost of college textbooks by expanding the use of open educational resources.

"Higher education is calling for solutions to the textbook costs crisis, and this bill provides an answer," said Nicole Allen, Open Educational Resources Program Director for SPARC, which works to broaden access to academic knowledge.  "For too many students, the cost of textbooks has become simply unaffordable, even with cost saving measures like renting and used books.  It is time to focus on solutions that deliver meaningful, long-term savings for students, and open educational resources are the most effective path forward."

The cost of textbooks has emerged as a significant piece of the college affordability and access debate.  Textbook prices increased 82% between 2002 and 2012, and the average student budget for books and supplies has grown to $1,207 per year.  Despite the vast potential for technology and the internet to solve this problem, many digital materials – especially e-textbooks – actively restrict much of this potential and perpetuate high costs.

Open educational resources (OER) provide a new model for publishing academic content that is designed to take full advantage of the digital environment. OER are textbooks, videos, articles, and other materials that are distributed online under a license granting advance permission for everyone to freely use, adapt and share them.  Using open textbooks in place of traditional textbooks reduces the cost to students by 80-100%.

Details About the Bill

The Affordable College Textbook Act directs the Department of Education to create a competitive grant program for higher education institutions (or groups of higher education institutions) to establish pilot programs that use OER to reduce textbook costs.  Pilot programs may focus on using existing OER, creating or improving new OER, or conducting efficacy research – or any combination of these, so long as the end result is student savings.

All educational materials developed or improved through the program will be posted online and licensed as OER so that everyone – including other colleges, students and faculty – can feely use the materials.  The bill contains a strong definition of an open license with equivalent to the terms to the Creative Commons Attribution License, which grants full reuse rights on the condition of author attribution.  This license would ensure the public gains the maximum benefit of the materials created through the grant program. 

"While the potential benefits of this bill to students and professors alike are tremendous, it is important to note that states, institutions and faculty members can start leveraging the power of open educational resources today," said Allen. "From Tidewater Community College's zero textbook cost degree to Washington State's Open Course Library, dozens of initiatives are already leading the way. As we advocate for the bill, we should also advocate for the ideas behind it right away."

For more information, visit SPARC's page on the Affordable College Textbook Act. To follow the conversation on this issue on Twitter use the hashtags #OER and #OERUSA.  



SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.  Developed by the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC has become a catalyst for change.  Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries.

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