Durbin, Franken Introduce Legislation to Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, of Illinois.
U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, Ill.
 The cost of new textbooks has increased 82%, three times faster than inflation, over the last decade.

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) today introduced legislation designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free.  This bill, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education, working with professors and other organizations, to create and expand the use of textbooks that can be made available online and licensed under terms that grant the public the right to freely access, customize and distribute the material, also known as “open textbooks”.

“My home state of Illinois provides an example of how the bill I am introducing with Senator Franken can be successful,” said Durbin.  “Over three years ago, I worked to secure funding for the University of Illinois to complete an open textbook project.  The University, working with faculty, identified sustainability as the topic for the project and an area of study in need of such open resources. Since 2012, the textbook that was produced from this effort – Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation – has been in regular use at the University of Illinois campuses. The book has been used in a Massive Open Online Course that has been sampled by at least 60,000 students.  At least a dozen schools throughout the country have either contacted the University of Illinois about the text or are using it.  This bill can replicate and build on this success and help make the cost of attending college more affordable.”

“In the fight to make college more affordable and accessible for Minnesota families we can’t overlook the rising costs of textbooks,” said Franken. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with Senator Durbin because it will help provide cheaper alternatives to traditional textbooks and keep more money in students’ pockets where it belongs.”

Textbook costs are one of the most overlooked costs of going to college, but they can be substantial and can be a barrier to attaining a college education.  According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2012-2013 academic year was $1,200.

“Students can’t afford to pay $250 for a single textbook. In fact, U.S. PIRG found that seven of ten current college students have skipped buying a textbook because it was too expensive. It’s clear that the current big-publisher system isn’t working for students, and needs to change,” said U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate Ethan Senack.  “For students, the cost-saving potential of open textbooks is massive – around 80-100% compared to published textbooks. We thank Senators Durbin and Franken for championing this innovative solution to the high cost of textbooks.”

Today’s legislation expands on the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act which contained provisions from Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act that aimed to make more information available to students looking to manage college textbook costs.  Durbin introduced his bill after learning of troubling practices by the publishing industry to create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense.  The 2008 law required textbook publishers to disclose to faculty the cost of a textbooks to their students, required schools to publish textbook information in course catalogues when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials so students had choices.  The provisions took effect on July 1, 2010.

While a June 2013 GAO Report required by the law found that students had more information and publishers and schools were generally complying with the new disclosure requirements, it also found that the price of textbooks had continued to rise.

“Textbook prices are simply unaffordable and have become a barrier to academic success for too many students,” said Nicole Allen, Open Educational Resources Program Director for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.  “This bill would help more colleges leverage open educational resources to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all.”

“The dirty secret about textbooks is that they don’t have to be so expensive given the rise of technology. Even worse, if you put textbook debt in larger context with student debt, the affordability of college is becoming less and less tenable, and, as a result, the American dream is becoming more difficult for the next generation to attain,” said Matthew Segal, co-founder of OurTime.org

The limited federal investment in the creation and expanded use of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks outlined in the Affordable College Textbook Act can improve learning, access, and affordability for all college students.  Making high-quality open textbooks freely available to the general public can significantly lower college textbook costs and increase accessibility to higher education.  Open textbooks can also improve learning and teaching through course materials that are more flexible, adaptable, and accessible for professors.

Specifically, the Affordable College Textbook Act:

  • Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
  • Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public;
  • Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  • Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

The Durbin-Franken Affordable College Textbook Act is supported by the following organizations: U.S. PIRG, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, American Association of Community Colleges, National Association of College Bookstores, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, OUR TIME, Creative Commons and the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

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