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Lawmakers: Colleges Need Free Digital Textbooks

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By Nick Clunn

Lawmakers in Washington are considering a proposal that would help colleges produce and share free digital textbooks, a move proponents say would help make college more affordable.

The Affordable College Textbook Act would create a grant program for colleges interested in establishing pilot programs that use “open educational resources” to reduce textbook costs. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, a supporter of the legislation, has defined these resources as free, online academic materials that everyone can use, adapt, and share.

A version of the act has been introduced in both the House and Senate, where the bills await action by legislative committees.

Undergrads on average spend more than $1,200 annually on books and supplies. (Photo credit: Lightpoet)

Undergrads on average spend more than $1,200 annually on books and supplies. (Photo credit: Lightpoet)

Textbook costs surpass $1,200

The aim of the legislation is to make college more affordable by lowering one of the hidden costs of higher education.

Textbook prices rose 6 percent annually between 2002 and 2012, a slightly slower rate than the growth of tuition and fees, but well above the 2-percent annual increases of consumer prices overall, according to government data. Undergraduates during the current academic year, on average, are spending more than $1,200 on books and supplies, according to a survey by The College Board.

What’s more, consumer advocate U.S. PIRG has found that seven out of every 10 college students have skipped buying a textbook because it was too expensive, said U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate Ethan Senack.

“Students can’t afford to pay $250 for a single textbook,” he said. “It’s clear that the current big-publisher system isn’t working for students and needs to change.”

Sustainability textbook seen as model

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said he sponsored the bill, in part, to build on the success of an open textbook project at the University of Illinois. The university, working with faculty, identified sustainability as the topic for the project and an area of study in need of open resources. Since its release last year, the book—“Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation”—has been used regularly on university campuses and adopted by other U.S. schools.

Other provisions in the act would improve existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other materials available for sale individually, rather than as a bundle; and require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

This article was originally published at Dell Tech Page One.

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