Are textbook costs for students at four-year institutions in Washington state out of control?
State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, seems to think so. According to her, students on average rack up $500 to $1,000 in textbook costs each year.
Since 2015, Stambaugh, who started her second term in the 25th District in January, has been on a quest to reduce the amount of cash that college students shell out for textbooks. In 2015, she sponsored legislation that established an open education resource pilot program at Eastern Washington University and in the following year, introduced and passed legislation that expanded the OER pilot program to all six of Washington state’s four-year institutions. OER are educational materials and resources that are free and available for use by anyone.
Now, Stambaugh is sponsoring House Bill 1768, which would help to enhance the existing OER programs by authorizing the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) to award grants of $100,000 to each of the six institutions: Evergreen State College, Central Washington University, Washington State University, University of Washington, Western Washington University, and Eastern.
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“This proposed grant program would build upon and expand existing OER programs and provide alternatives for students and potentially save them hundreds of dollars on textbooks each quarter,” Stambaugh said in a written statement.
Stambaugh said in 2015 she and others who championed the OER legislation scoured the U.S. looking for OER programs at comparable institutions that would serve as good models. They found one at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In this particular model, the program found that for every $10,000 invested in OER, students saved $70,000 over four quarters of general education course work.
“It’s completely doable to have the same savings as Amherst here in Washington state,” Stambaugh said in a phone interview.
Grant dollars used by the four-year institutions could be put toward the salary of an OER resource or OER liaison position on campus at the library to ensure faculty have a robust and comprehensive program in place to roll out new OER materials for students, Stambaugh said.
Grant funds could also be put toward the cost of a four-year institution contracting with a pre-existing for-profit or nonprofit open education resource library.
“Making sure that it is quality information is at the forefront of instructors’ priority list,” Stambaugh said.
If House Bill 1768 is approved, grants would be awarded during the 2017-18 academic year. The WSAC would report back to the Washington state Legislature by Nov. 1, 2019, detailing which four-year institutions received the grants; how the grant dollars were used to expand the use of OER; and finally, what cost savings students realized as a result of the grants.
“I had the opportunity to talk to all of the four-year institutions — their presidents and faculty members,” Stambaugh said. “It’s been welcomed by all institutions, and they’re very excited to put in their grant applications to receive the dollars to help their students.”
Stambaugh is hopeful House Bill 1768 will soon be heard in the House Appropriations Committee.