On June 9, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 810, a new piece of legislation designed to support Open Educational Resources in Texas. Sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-18), Rep. Donna Howard (D-48), Sen. Larry Taylor (R-11), and Sen. Royce West (D-23), in response to the rising cost of college text books, this bill amends numerous sections of the Texas Educational Code in ways that provide strong support for the use and development of OA resources in Texas public colleges and universities.
Probably the most significant feature of SB 810 is that it creates a new “Open Education Resources Grant Program.” Section 39 of the bill directs the Higher Education Board to create and administer a program designed to encourage faculty members at Texas’s colleges and universities to develop courses that use only open educational materials by creating a grant to fund some of these classes. Faculty members who receive grant money from this program must provide information about the effect of their classes to the board, including the number of students who complete the course, an estimate of the money saved by students from it, and whether other faculty members have adopted its curriculum.
In addition to the grant, the bill makes several other noteworthy changes to the law, as well. For instance, the law requires schools to provide the ability to search for classes require or recommend open resources as their text books. What is more, the law directs the Higher Education Board look into the feasibility of creating a state repository for open educational resources. So, in the future, we could see a public resource for open educational materials in Texas that is supported by the state government. Fascinating!
All in all, this legislation seems like a win the Open Access movement. Today, there are over a million students in public universities and 2 year colleges in Texas and that number is expected to grow by ~400,000 in the next 15 years. Now, if this program is successful, it looks like these students will be likely to have classes that use open educational resources available to them, which, in turn, could raise the profile of and the market for open educational resources. While it’s just one step forward for OA support at the state level, and it’s not clear what impact it will actually have, it is nevertheless significant and something to watch. With the rising cost of education and educational materials, it’s not too hard to imagine a future where the courses supported by this legislation become very popular, if only as a way to save money on school.
Of course, before we get too excited, let’s be clear there is no guarantee this will, in fact, succeed. Texas has a habit of cutting funding to higher education, and who knows what could happen to this program in two years when the legislature meets again.
This law will go into effect on September 1, 2017. With luck it won’t be too long before we start seeing its effects.