Bill requires Md. colleges to disclose all course costs

ANNAPOLIS (March 4, 2020)—Maryland universities, colleges and community colleges would have to clearly outline free and lower-cost course materials, along with textbook and other fees associated with a course, in the institution's catalog, per a bill under the Maryland General Assembly, should it pass.

The idea came out of a University of Maryland Student Government Association meeting, according to the group's director of government affairs, Samay Kindra, who pitched the idea to the House sponsor of the bill, Delegate Vaughn Stewart, D-Montgomery.

"We're not asking for money or anything, we're asking for information," Kindra, a senior international business and economics major at the University of Maryland, told Capital News Service last week.

Kindra said that many students register for classes not knowing how much they will actually be spending on the course. He used himself as an example: "I'm dropping close to a thousand dollars on materials," adding that he didn't know he would have to do so beforehand.

Colleges and universities under the University System of Maryland would be required to publicize which courses would provide students with free digital course materials, and may provide access to low-cost print options to students as an alternative, according to the bill's legislative analysis.

The process may require a one-time programming cost in fiscal year 2021 for the update in course catalog, though the costs have not been estimated, according to the state analysis.

By spreading information to students and faculty, Kindra said, it'll encourage faculty to adopt free or low-cost course materials going forward.

"The whole idea behind this is to give students more information so that they can make better financial decisions for themselves," said Kindra.

The bill faced opposition at its House hearing on Feb. 11, with a representative of the university system calling the bill's intention "duplicative" of the policies currently in place, but supporting the bill's idea and implementation of open educational resources, an idea that encourages instructors to mix-and-match free or low-cost materials.

The Senate version of the bill, 667, has bipartisan support with lead sponsor Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George's and Anne Arundel, and co-sponsor, Justin Ready, R-Carroll, saying that the bill would basically be "truth in advertising."

A similar measure was passed in Oregon in 2015, in order to make material more affordable and accessible to students, Kindra said.

Kindra said that the Student Government Association is in the process of trying to push lawmakers in voting in favor of the bill by sending them emails.

Neither the House nor the Senate committees have yet voted on the legislation.

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