Durbin reintroduces a bill to cut costs on books for college students


Vandy Manyeh, News Editor
October 3, 2017

Special editions. Frequent revisions. Restrictive access codes.

You probably got one of those answers when you tried to use a textbook this semester for the same class that ended last semester.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is doing something to stop this from happening. Joined by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Angus King (I-ME), he reintroduced a bill titled “Affordable College Textbook Act” to “expand the use of open college textbooks.”

Open college textbook is a “textbook licensed under an open copyright license, and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public.”

Speaking to campus news editors via telephone on Sept. 27, Durbin said this measure would be funded through a federal grant program. The bill is an improved version from the one originally introduced in 2015, with a provision to have books accessible to people with disabilities.

“We have come to realize that for many students, the textbook cost is the most overlooked,” said Durbin. “This is one of the drivers of debt.”

Durbin’s open college textbook proposal has been tested. A pilot program started with the University of Illinois school system in 2012. “Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation,” was made accessible electronically to students and teachers free of charge everywhere. This “test” was sponsored through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The book is still accessible to students in and out of Illinois.

“That is a direct saving for the students anytime a professor assigns the text,” added Durbin.

Open-source textbooks give students and teachers another way to package information. A strategy trying to copy what has been done in Illinois is ongoing at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Franken, a co-sponsor of the ACT Act explained how MSU-M gives money to professors to write a book. The books, in turn, become an open-source publication.  

“This puts pressure on the textbooks creators, producers and publishers to be competitive,” said Franken.

The University of Minnesota, under the Open Textbook Network (OTN), implemented a similar program in 2015 and reported college students from nine universities saved an estimated $1.5 million in textbook costs.

Adding in on the conversation was Kaitlyn Vitez, a higher education advocate from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). She said 65 percent of students have had to skip buying a textbook at some point, while 95 percent worried that not buying the textbook was going to affect their grades.

“We know we have a serious problem on hand that we have to handle,” said Vitez.

Durbin brought in a personal feel to the act’s conversation after visiting schools in Illinois. He mentioned instructors not knowing the cost of the books they want for their classes, or unnecessarily changing the book for basic introductory classes. At a community college, it is estimated that we sometimes spend 40 percent of our tuition fees on books.  

Over the last decade, the U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Price Index shows consumers’ textbook expenses increased  90 percent. Also, according to College Board, “the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2015-2016 academic year was $1,250.”

Pressed by The DePaulia’s Evelyn Baker as to why the bill hasn’t been passed since its introduction in October 2015, Durbin’s answer hinged on the timetable for discussions about the Reauthorization of Higher Education Act.

Interested in knowing more about the Affordable College Textbook Act? Visit: https://www.durbin.senate.gov/