New bill could save students millions in textbook costs

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators acted today to address the rising costs of textbooks, proposing a new bill to create a grant program to promote free textbooks at colleges across the country. The program has the potential to save nearly a billion dollars for American students if enacted.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), and Angus King (I-ME) along with U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO-02) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-09) today introduced bicameral legislation, the Affordable College Textbook Act, to support the creation and expanded use of open educational resources (OER), which are free to download, peer reviewed, and easily adapted by faculty.

U.S. PIRG’s higher education advocate Kaitlyn Vitez joined the senators to introduce the bill. “Students are a captive market, and publishers have taken advantage of students for years by raising prices and restricting access. For folks that are already struggling to pay for college, high textbook prices are a serious barrier to student success. This bill restores some competition in an industry that, quite frankly, is unfair to students. It’s time that that we break free from this traditional marketplace, and embrace a free alternative that is kinder to a student’s wallet and proven to improve their experience in the classroom.”

The College Board states that the average student pays $1250 a year for textbooks and supplies. Textbook prices can be as high as 40 percent of tuition for community college students. Furthermore, according to a survey by the Student PIRGs, 65 percent of students have decided at some point to not to buy a textbook because of the cost; 94 percent of those students worried it would negatively affect their grade.

“In the ongoing nationwide debate about the rising cost of college, one of the most basic and direct costs to students is often overlooked: textbooks,” said Durbin. After seeing the success of an open textbook program in his home state of Illinois, Senator Durbin became an advocate for open textbooks. “This bill can replicate and build on this success and help make the cost of attending college more affordable for all students.”

“Open textbooks are a big step towards keeping higher education accessible for everyone,” said Vitez. “We thank the senators for their continued leadership to address the cost of higher education on all fronts.”

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 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

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U.S. PIRG is a non-partisan, non-profit consumer organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.