An international alliance of academic and research libraries has announced an effort to reduce the cost of college textbooks through the expansion of open educational resource offerings.
The alliance, known as SPARC, introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act of 2015, which makes use of open educational resources (OER), which are free, openly-licensed educational materials that are available for everyone to use and share.
"Higher education is calling for solutions to the textbook costs crisis, and this bill provides an answer," said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC. "For too many students, textbook costs have become unaffordable, even with today's 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. We're grateful to Senators Durbin, Franken and King and Representatives Hinojosa and Polis for their leadership on to this important issue."
The bill requires the Department of Education to implement a competitive grant program for higher education institutions that will create a pilot program to help reduce the costs associated with purchasing textbooks through the use of OER. Pilot programs will be allowed to focus on using existing OER, creating or improving new OER, or conducting research to save students money.
Textbook cost has become a recent topic of debate as the subject of college affordability continues to gain popularity. Prices of textbooks have risen 82% between 2002 and 2012, with the average student budget for purchasing such materials coming in at over $1,200 per year. A recent NBC report found prices to have risen more than three times the rate of inflation from 1977 to 2015.
Although the technology and internet capabilities exist to help solve the problem, e-textbooks and other digital materials offered by traditional publishers tend to put a stop to any efforts made on that front, causing prices to rise even higher.
However, open educational resources are coming into view as a popular way to get around the high cost of textbooks. Colleges around the country are beginning to make use of OER, which allows institutions to access more course materials while simultaneously reducing the cost for students.
The Maricopa Community College district in Arizona was able to save their students over $4.5 million by using open textbooks. The University of Maryland University College took OER one step further by becoming the first school to replace all physical textbooks used in their undergraduate courses with free online resources.
"With open educational resources, we have a solution to the textbook cost crisis at our fingertips," said Allen. "This bill would take a tremendous step toward expanding the benefits to students and faculty alike. And in the mean time, there are many ways that institutions and states can begin leveraging the power of open educational resources today."