New grant program would lower print costs…by promoting online

By Becky Yerak, Chicago Tribune
October 13th, 2015

Proposed legislation would promote use of open textbook format.

open-textbookA competitive grant program that would expand the use of “open” and free textbooks was proposed Oct. 1 by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The Affordable College Textbook Act would provide grants that schools could use to publish what are essentially online materials that are free for professors, students, researchers and others.

The legislation “will help pressure the traditional college textbook market to come up with cheaper alternatives and innovations,” Durbin said in a statement.

Similar legislation that Durbin introduced in 2013 went nowhere, but he is trying again.

“The Senate is due to consider the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and Sen. Durbin will be working to see the Affordable College Textbook Act included as part of that larger package,” said Maria McElwain, Durbin press secretary.

The annual cost of books and supplies for the average full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public college is estimated to be about $1,200, the College Board says.

Also, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, textbook prices rose from 2002 to 2012 at an average of 6 percent a year, while tuition and fees increased at an average of 7 percent. Overall, consumer prices increased an average of 2 percent per year during this time.

Durbin said he envisions more efforts such as one undertaken by the University of Illinois, which created an open textbook titled “Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation.” The 598-page book is available online and free of charge.

“Federal investment in expanding the use of open educational resources could significantly lower college textbook costs and reduce financial barriers to higher education,” according to language in the bill. The U.S. Department of Education would oversee the competitive grant process, which would support pilot programs aiming to expand the use of open textbooks, the bill said. Applicants would need to estimate the cost savings for students, the bill said.

Other sponsors include Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Angus King, I-Maine.

The bill doesn’t mention a specific amount of money but rather authorizes the program to be funded as needed, said McElwain.

Westchester-based Follett, a provider of education technology, services and print and digital content, is a member of the National Association of College Stores, which supports the Affordable College Textbook Act and helped draft the legislation.

“Follett also is pursuing other opportunities to drive down the cost of education through such programs as text rental, which saves students up to 80 percent of the cost of a new textbook,” spokesman Tom Kline said.

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