Saturday, November 23, 2013

New Legislation Promotes Open-Access Textbooks for College Students

Senators Durbin (left) and Franken (middle)
On November 14th, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would encourage the creation and utilization of free online textbooks for college students.  Senators Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the bill, called the Affordable College Textbook Act, as a response to a Government Accountability Office report that noted an 82 percent increase in textbook prices between 2000 and 2012.  

The bill contains a litany of improvement mechanisms for the textbook market.  It also provides the incentive for states to being experimentation with open educational resources, with the intent to decrease the cost of education for college students and high school students in dual credit courses.    If the bill passes, it will direct government funding to the creation of college textbooks and materials made free with open licenses.  These licenses allow for flexibility with how students and teachers use the books, so long as there is acknowledgment of the work’s authors.  Authors retain compensation for their work, and students have free access to their works for classes with larger enrollments.

Senator Durbin began working with the University of Illinois to secure funding for an open textbook project, the results of which created the framework for this piece of legislation.  The University identified sustainability as the topic for further work, finding that in order for this project to be a permanent part of colleges across the United States, it would require groundwork that benefits all parties involved: authors, publishers, administrations, professors, and students.  If a group does not benefit from the program, it will be a failed initiative in our colleges and universities.  Congressional policymakers will ask this question before deciding if this piece of legislation will become law in the United States.
Too expensive.

If this bill passes, it can establish an entirely new framework for how students purchase textbooks, as well as how durable they are as the student progresses with their studies.  One benefit from the program, besides financial relief, for students who take part in this program is the benefit of textbook retention.  Some textbooks directly pertain to a student’s specific major or field of study, but it is often seen as more beneficial to sell the textbook after its class use, that way other books become affordable.  This program would incentivize the use of e-books for student use, meaning that after completion, it is not cumbersome or a hassle to keep the books for future reference.  Essentially, the program allows for a better system of academic retention for the involved students.

The bill currently is in the US Senate, and if it passes, it will go to the House of Representatives for evaluation, markup, and a vote.  If successful, the legislation is sent to the President for a pass or veto.  Keep up with for updates on the legislative process.  

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