Jan 162014

obama briefing-whitehousephotoToday, President and First Lady Obama met with university and higher education leaders to promote efforts “to  help more students afford and graduate from college with the skills they need.”  A White House press release highlighted the President’s efforts to increase grant funding and reform student loads, as well as over 100 “New Commitments to Expand College Opportunity” offered by the universities and organizations present at the event.

There is one more step that Obama could take to make college more affordable.  He could signal his support of the Affordable College Textbook Act.

The Affordable College Textbook Act, introduced by Durbin and Franken in the Senate and Hinjosa and Miller in the House, would offer grants for to colleges for the creation of free textbooks and other open educational resources.  It would prioritize funding for projects that would generate the highest savings for students.

Textbooks created under the Act would be required to be made available online under an open license – defined in the legislation as “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.”

Textbook are only part of the overall cost of college, but they are substantial. The College Board estimates that the average full time student spends $1200 a year on books and supplies.

The Affordable Textbook Act is supported by  U.S. PIRG, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, American Association of Community Colleges, National Association of College Bookstores, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, OUR TIME, Creative Commons and the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Creative Commons USA Director Michael Carroll made a statement when the bill was introduced praising it for making “high quality textbooks affordable and reusable by paying once for their production and permitting free copying, updating, and adaptation with the requirement of an open license.”

Creating free textbooks for the classes most often taken by students would be a positive step towards expanding college opportunity. If Obama wants to expand college opportunity, this is something he should get behind.


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