Senators push for free textbooks

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) introduced the Affordable Textbook Act last week in hopes of creating a grant program for universities to fund open-sourced — “free” — learning materials, including textbooks.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 123 of the last 128 months since 2005 have seen an increase in textbook prices. An analysis of these numbers by NBC found a 1,041 percent increase in price since 1977.

Every year, students at a four-year public institutions of higher education pay around $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to The College Board.

“Students and parents know textbooks are overlooked,” Durbin said in a conference call with reporters last week.

Durbin said the idea is for the U.S. Secretary of Education would create these grants, and they are meant to encourage universities to consider using open education resources (OER).

One of the bill’s cosponsors, Senator Al Franken (D-MN), also said on the conference call that those in favor of the legislation are also working toward finding the best practices for open sourcing.

“Online materials are more flexible and open sourced materials are a part of that,” Franken said.

Open sourced materials have been introduced at other universities across the country, including in the Virginia Community College System.

A VCCS press release announcing the initiative in May, said the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had awarded the Virginia system a $200,000 grant allowing 15 schools to begin making open textbook resources available for free.

The community college program expects to save 50,000 students more than $5 million in one year.

“Textbook costs have been a barrier since before I was a community college student,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

DuBois said technology is changing the way we access information, making it faster and less expensive without compromising quality.

“We may never be able to bring that (technology) to every course of study,” DuBois said. “We owe it to our students, however, to bring that flexibility to every course that we can.”

John Ulmschneider, the university librarian for VCU, said he is working with Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an organization that has lobbied for Durbin’s proposed bill.

Ulmschneider said he is also collaborating with Gardner Campbell, Vice Provost for Learning Innovation at VCU, on preparing a report for the university’s deans regarding-open sourced materials and how the school can implement the free tools.

Ulmschneider said there are “hundreds of thousands” of online resources that aren’t open to the public, but are free and available for students and professors. For these resources to be considered OER, they must be open and available for the public, not just students — something Ulmschneider said the school is looking into further.

A bill by the same name was introduced by Durbin in 2013, but Congress took no further action from there. The current bill is in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions where it will be considered before making its way to the Senate floor.


Print Managing Editor, Matt Leonard

11295907_825585874177601_7322101861147123120_nMatt is a senior print journalism major and political science minor graduating this December. Matt began at the CT as a contributing writer before moving up to staff writer and online news editor. Matt worked at The Denver Post with the web team as a Dow Jones News Fund digital intern last summer, and previously interned with WTVR/CBS6. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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