This week, Creative Commons USA released a new resource for state policymakers interested in tackling the high cost of college textbooks and improving student outcomes in the process. The resource, an “OER State Legislative Guide,” is meant to provide policymakers and staff with a cross-sectional, annotated set of legislative texts that help expand the use of OER (open educational resources), a powerful alternative to the broken textbook market. The move comes in conjunction with our partners at SPARC, who released an “OER State Policy Playbook,” detailing recommendations and strategies for how states can take ownership of the problem.
Every year, students spend around $10 billion on college textbooks. The College Board recommends that first-year students budget $1200 per year for books and supplies, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that textbook costs have increased at 4 times the rate of inflation in the past decade. In response, large portions of the student population are forced to skip buying or renting their books, ultimately risking their grades and lowering the quality of their education.
One thing is clear: the current textbook market is failing to meet the needs of our education system.
A growing alternative is open educational resources (OER), which are learning materials published under a license that gives users permission to share, adapt, and retain them – at no cost to the user.
Openly licensed materials, unlike traditional books, leverage modern technology to reduce costs and deliver knowledge in a more accessible way. As a result, open licensed works have far fewer barriers between them and the end user – which alleviates the negative consequences of the traditional textbook market, improves access and performance as a result, and opens the doors to far greater innovation and development.
Many organizations, institutions, and foundations are working towards increasing adoption of OER, but state-level policy is an important step towards lowering the cost of textbooks and making higher education affordable and accessible to everyone. More than a dozen states have passed OER-supportive legislation already, and the number continues to grow. These materials should provide policymakers in other states with ideas and information on how they can help address high textbook costs themselves.