U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Polis helps secure $5 million for free, open-source textbooks

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Washington, September 26, 2018 | comments

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., celebrated a legislative victory today when the House of Representatives approved a $5 million allocation to expand access to free, open-source textbooks, many of which are online.

Polis has been advocating for open-source textbooks for years. His bipartisan Affordable College Textbook Act was the basis for the allocation. Polis crafted the bill with input from Front Range Community College, CU-Boulder, and CSU.

“I’m thrilled that the House of Representatives just approved an education budget that allocates $5 million to expand access to free, often online, open-source textbooks. To reduce the skyrocketing cost of college, we have to think about everything from tuition to textbooks. I’ve been pushing for open-source textbooks as a way to help address the ever-growing cost of college, and I’m so relieved we were able to get bipartisan approval to get the ball rolling on this,” said Polis.

According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2016-17 academic year was $1,250.  According to a survey by U.S. PIRG, 65 percent of students decided not to buy a textbook because of the cost, and 94 percent of those students worried it would negatively affect their grade.

Front Range Community College has been on the forefront of using open textbooks as a more affordable option for students. 

“The mission of community colleges, among many things, is to provide open access to education for our citizens to help them improve their lives through learning. However, skyrocketing costs of textbooks have made it difficult for many students to achieve that goal. Open Education Resources (OER) and open textbooks help us alleviate this burden of cost that many of our students, particularly our first-generation, single-parent, and students from low-income families feel,” said Niroj Bhattarai, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Front Range Community College.  “I started searching for OER and open textbooks after I had a few students cry in my office because of the high costs of textbooks and their inability to purchase them—that was an impediment to the success of our mission.”

Bhattarai has since increased the use of open textbooks in his economics classes at Front Range. 

“From my experience in working in the bookstore, I've heard a lot of feedback from students pertaining to the cost of, availability, and platform of textbooks these days. Having easy access to free textbooks has generated a reaction of relief or delight from students. Removing that burden from students helps them focus more on how they will succeed in their academic pursuits by giving them the space to focus on what they need to do to succeed having the formalities out of the way,” said Nadine Nehme, student, Front Range Community College.   

Polis serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He is the top-Democrat on the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee and a member of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee. 

He is the former chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, and the founder and former superintendent of The New America School - a network of charter schools in several states serving new immigrants and English-language learners - as well as the Academy for Urban Learning for homeless and at-risk youth. The district he represents today includes Colorado State University and University of Colorado.

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