2 Senators Offer Bill Promoting Open-Access Textbooks

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would encourage the creation of free online textbooks by offering grants for pilot projects that produce high-quality open-access textbooks, especially for courses with large enrollments. Grant money would also be available to help faculty members find and review such textbooks, as well as to conduct research on how well open-access textbooks meet students’ and faculty members’ needs.

The bill, called the Affordable College Textbook Act, was introduced by two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota. Senator Durbin introduced a similar bill in 2009 that did not become law, but he is revisiting the textbook-cost issue in the wake of a recent study by the Government Accountability Office finding that textbook prices rose an average of 6 percent a year from 2002 to 2012. The increase amounted to a total of 82 percent during a 10-year period when consumer prices rose just 28 percent.

Free online textbooks have been slow to catch on among both faculty members and students, notwithstanding the College Board’s estimate that the average college student spends $1,200 a year on books and supplies. But Rice University’s OpenStax College, among the best known of open-access ventures, recently added a sixth title to its offerings, with five more in the works, and officials say they expect to save $3.7-million for 40,000 students during the current academic year.

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