Senator Durbin

U.S. PIRG report finds students would perform better with open textbooks

Jane Park, January 30th, 2014

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a report this week called, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives.” The report features responses to a survey administered to over 2,000 students across 163 college campuses in the U.S. in regards to the rising cost of textbooks and how it affects student usage and academic performance. The report has been making the rounds in major news outlets and is highlighted in a letter to Congress by Senators Durbin and Franken as a push for the Affordable College Textbook Act. It is available for anyone to read online under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, but here are the tl;dr highlights:

What the survey results say

  • 65% of students choose not to buy a college textbook because it’s too expensive
  • 94% report that they suffer academically because of this choice
  • 48% say they altered which classes they took based on textbook costs, either taking fewer classes or different classes
  • Senator Durbin wholeheartedly agrees: “According to the students surveyed in this report, the rising cost of textbooks not only adds to the overall financial burden of attending college, it can also have a measurably negative impact on their academic performance and student outcomes.”
  • 82% of students say they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional!
  • Case studies at both Houston Community College and Virginia State University suggest that classes using open textbooks have higher grades and better course completion rates

Textbook industry facts

(as reported by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs)

  • College textbook prices have increased by 82% in the past ten years, aka 3x the rate of inflation
  • Though alternatives to the new print edition textbooks exist, the costs of these alternatives (such as rental programs, used book markets and e-textbooks) are still dictated by publishers who re-issue editions every few years
  • Ethan Sendack at U.S. PIRG says: “[Students] can’t shop around and find the most affordable option, meaning there’s no consumer control on the market.”
  • On average students spend $1,200 a year on textbooks which = 14% of tuition at a four-year, public college; 39% of tuition at community college

Open textbook facts

  • Open textbooks are written by faculty and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks
  • Open textbooks are free to access, use, download to electronic devices, and affordable to print — all thanks to the open content licenses on them that legally allows these uses
  • U.S. PIRG estimates that open textbooks could save each student ~$100 per course they take

Find out for yourself

Links to the press release, full report, and news coverage below.

What you can do

Support the Affordable College Textbook Act which would establish open textbook pilot programs at colleges and universities across the country! Learn more at http://www.sparc.arl.org/advocacy/national/act and read Senators Durbin and Franken’s Dear Colleague letter to Congress at http://www.sparc.arl.org/sites/default/files/S.%201704%20Dear%20Colleague.pdf.

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US Senators seek to make college textbooks affordable and open

Jane Park, November 15th, 2013

A Human Timeline of Open Education
Opensourceway / CC BY-SA

United States Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota have introduced legislation called the Affordable College Textbook Act that seeks to make college textbooks affordable and openly available under the Creative Commons Attribution license. According to Durbin’s press release, Bill S.1704 does 5 things:

  • Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
  • Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public [via CC BY];
  • Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  • Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

You can read the full text of Bill S.1704 here. In addition to highlighting the rising cost of textbooks, Bill S.1704 defines the following terms:

(3) OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE.—The term ‘‘open educational resource’’ means an educational resource that is licensed under an open license and made freely available online to the public.

(4) OPEN LICENSE.—The term ‘‘open license’’ means a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable copyright license granting the public permission to access, reproduce, publicly perform, publicly display, adapt, distribute, and otherwise use the work and adaptations of the work for any purpose, conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given to authors as designated.

(5) OPEN TEXTBOOK.—The term ‘‘open textbook’’ means an open educational resource or set of open educational resources that either is a textbook or can be used in place of a textbook for a postsecondary course at an institution of higher education.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) note several existing open textbook programs that have proved successful in lowering costs for students, including the University of Minnesota’s online catalog of open textbooks which has so far saved students $100,000; Tidewater Community College’s degree program where each course uses open textbooks lowering costs to zero for students; and Washington State’s Open Course Library project for its 81 largest enrollment courses that has saved students $5.4 million to date.

In addition to cost savings, SPARC highlights Bill S.1704′s potential impacts of high quality and innovation:

  • High quality materials. Open educational resources developed through the grants will also be available for all other colleges, faculty and students across the country to freely use.
  • Supporting innovation. At a time where new models to support open educational resources are rapidly emerging, this bill would help foster innovation and development of best practices that can be shared with other institutions.

For more info, see:

You can take action to support Bill S.1704 here and use Twitter hashtag #oerusa to share the news!

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