U.S. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota have introduced legislation called the Affordable College Textbook Act with the goal of making college textbooks affordable and openly available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Bill S.1704 does 5 things, according to Senator Durbin’s press release:

  1. 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;
  2. Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public via a CC BY license;
  3. Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  4. Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
  5. Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

In its own press release about Bill S. 1704, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) noted several existing open textbook programs that have proved successful in lowering costs for students, including Tidewater Community College’s “Z Degree” Program in Business Administration, the first degree program in the nation with zero textbook costs.

Also, last week at the OpenEd Conference in Utah, three OER projects from Virginia’s Community Colleges were included in the closing keynote: the Chancellor’s OER Adoption Grant, Tidewater’s Z Degree, and Northern Virginia’s OER General Education Certificate. The calculated cost savings to students from these 3 projects as well as other OER projects across the nation were tallied at $1 million dollars. (see related post on OpenEd 2013).

These are exciting times, and there is some real momentum developing around textbook affordability and OER. Virginia has a foot in the door. I hope the Commonwealth, and the VCCS, will continue to be a big part of these important efforts.