Dems push bill to lower cost of college textbooks

Dems push bill to lower cost of college textbooks
© Thinkstock

Congressional Democrats are leading an effort to make college textbooks more affordable.

Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (D-Ill.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE (D-Minn.) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLawmakers are failing in duty to respond to the American people Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks GOP senators float fallback plan to protect Dreamers MORE (I-Maine) introduced legislation Thursday that would create a competitive grant program to support open textbook pilot programs at colleges and universities.

The programs would allow professors, students, researchers and others to freely access materials that are available under an open license. A companion bill was was also offered in the House on Thursday by Reps. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2014-2015 academic year was $1,225.

In a news release, Durbin said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created an open textbook program using federal funds in 2012, which published a book electronically for free use.

“At least a dozen schools throughout the country have contacted the University of Illinois about the text or are using it today,” he said. “The book was also used in a massive open online course on Coursera [.org] that has been sampled by at least 60,000 students.” 

The Affordable College Textbook Act requires any open textbooks or educational material to be freely and easily accessible by the public and forces entities receiving funds to complete a report on how effective the program is at saving students money.

The lawmakers said textbook costs are one of the most overlooked expenses of going to college and can be a substantial barrier to attaining a college education.

“For decades, publishers have capitalized on their captive market,” Ethan Senack, higher education advocate at the consumer groups U.S. PIRG, said in the release. “This bill restores some competition to an industry where just a handful of publishing giants have managed to prevent it — saving students a ton of money and potentially improving student outcomes at the same time. It’s a no-brainer.”