Photos: Katelyn / Mainstream

Starting in January, students at Oregon’s colleges and universities may begin to get some relief from textbook prices thanks to the passage of House Bill 2213. This is only the most recent in a line of laws enacted to change the way students use textbooks.

This bill necessitates that colleges set measurable goals for increasing textbook affordability. Previous bills created a state-level Open Educational Resource librarian position to support the use of OER in Oregon, which was soon followed by House Bill 2871. This bill required community colleges to designate no-cost and low-cost textbook courses.

Open educational resources are free teaching and learning materials in the public domain or released under a license that allows no-cost access, use, adaptation, or redistribution.

“Oregon’s HB 2213 requires each public college and university to have a textbook affordability plan,” says Oregon’s Open Educational Resource librarian Amy Hofer. This law means that colleges must be able to provide no-cost or low-cost textbooks under $50, as well as library materials and eBooks, for a percentage of their courses.

Many students are rejoicing at this news. Hannah Laiblin, a former Umpqua Community College General Education student and graduate, thinks that it is excellent for students. “Textbooks are so outrageously expensive that even I myself stopped buying them unless it was obvious that I would need to.” Laiblin isn’t alone.

Part of the problem is that scholarships and grants are often written solely for tuition, leaving the burden of acquiring textbooks to fall upon the student. According to The College Board, the average full-time student at a two-year institution in the 2018-2019 academic year spent over $1,400 in books and supplies alone.

The bill does not guarantee that the textbooks for the most expensive required courses will be made more affordable, but HB 2871 has proven that successful steps in that direction can be taken. UCC has already adopted many affordable texts for courses in common subjects such as art, chemistry, general science, health, math, music, physics and writing that fulfill the requirements for the free or low-cost textbook plan.

In addition, students through UCC’s self-service Banner registration process are able to narrow their course search by these affordability parameters when looking up classes.

“This bill builds upon the work currently being done to lower textbook costs and adopt open educational resources across the state,” says Carol McGeehon, the Director of Library and Learning Services at UCC. “I will be working with faculty, students, the bookstore, and the business office to create a Textbook Affordability Plan for our college.”

Additionally, Jennifer Lantrip, UCC’s Research and Instruction librarian, will be working alongside McGeehon to provide open educational resource information to faculty through workshops that allow them to review OER textbooks in their subject area.

The bill goes into effect January 1, 2020. For students at Umpqua Community College, that means that the earliest that they will see changes made to support this bill is winter term 2020.

House Bill 2213 requires “that a certain number of courses offered by the community college or public university be designated as using low-cost or no-cost course materials,” as well as sets forth the steps that each college or university will take to “advertise the availability of academic courses designated as using low-cost or no-cost course materials.” Faculty and instructors must also be informed about the availability of open educational resources.

In short, these changes will be made publicly, and staff and students will be well-informed about what this means to them and their role in the college. Additionally, the law requires that, “at least one student representative must be included and consulted in the development of each textbook affordability plan.” Students will be as much a part of the decision-making process surrounding the execution of this bill as the leaders in each college.

However, the bill does not contain provision towards the implementation of the plan, so each individual college will decide how to support the funding of the bill on a case-by-case basis. Some of the ramifications of this affect the income of campus book stores, which often employ student workers. At UCC, the book store helped to support the operation of the cafeteria. As the book store’s income declined, the cafeteria was closed.

Others are concerned that the changes brought by this new bill will affect the classroom. “Instructors might not be able to use the books they have or like anymore because they are expensive,” says Micah Kruzic, a UCC alumni and current Elementary Education major at Western Oregon University. “I have a feeling that most teachers will not want to mess with the curriculum they have in place just to get a less expensive book.”

Although the lack of funding for this bill concern some, the library at Umpqua Community College provides $2,000 for faculty working on course redesign in compliance with OER adoption, and Open Oregon Educational Resources provides limited amounts of grant funding to colleges and universities for this purpose.

While Oregon is one of the few states that have such laws in place, it is possible that such changes will soon be a nationwide phenomenon. With rising tuition rates, many students welcome anything that makes college more feasible.