Senate Bill Would Make College Textbooks More Affordable

Democratic Senators have introduced a bicameral bill that would grant free textbooks to college campuses across the United States. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Maine’s Angus King, Minnesota’s Tina Smith, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act on April 4. Durbin said the bill would help college students across the US afford textbooks by making them accessible to professors, students, and the public for free.

At a four-year institution, books and supplies cost an average of $1,200 annually, CBS News noted. The bill would “authorize a competitive grant program,” like the Open Textbooks Pilot program, to expand and encourage the use of textbooks that are accessible under an open license. The senators also secured $10 million during the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years for a new Open Textbooks Pilot program, which is based on Durbin’s Affordable College Textbooks Act.

“One of the most basic higher education costs to students is often overlooked: textbooks,” Durbin said in a press release. “In Illinois, we know federal support for open textbooks can be successful. Expanding this program to more states will mean lower costs for students to incur. This bill will help prevent the high cost of textbooks from putting students’ academic success at risk.”

The bill expands upon and updates Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act within the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. The 2008 law required publishers of textbooks to tell faculty what textbooks would cost students, “required schools to publish textbook price information in course catalogs when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials,” a press release stated.

Grants were awarded to the University of California-Davis, Arizona State University, and Chippewa Valley Technical College, which achieved $30 million in cumulative savings for their students over five years through the Affordable College Textbooks Act. Congressman Neguse and Senator King will also request an additional $10 million for the pilot program during the 2020 Fiscal Year. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), one of the supporters of the bill, said in a statement that the program would help save students money while they focus on their education.

"Open textbooks are a proven strategy to save students millions while expanding access and flexibility," said Nicole Allen, director of Open Education for the SPARC. "This bill will accelerate the use of open educational resources that can be freely downloaded, edited and shared so that higher education can better serve all students."

The bill will also update and improve existing requirements for universities and publishers that provide textbook cost information to students on their course schedules, as well as require the US Government Office of Accountability to update Congress on pricing trends for college textbooks.

“Textbooks are a central part of a college education — but for students already struggling to keep up with the high cost of college, they are also another serious expense to worry about,” said Senator King. “Let’s take this step to provide real relief for college students so they can focus on what really matters: their studies.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.