Affordable College Textbooks Act Could Save Student Millions on Pricey Books

Press Release

WASHINGTON — Today, congressional leaders from both parties introduced legislation that could save American college students nearly a billion dollars on textbooks.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Angus King of Maine, along with U.S. Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado unveiled the Affordable College Textbook Act to support the creation and expanded use of open educational resources (OER). These textbooks are free to download, peer reviewed and easily adapted by faculty.

“The high cost of textbooks causes students to routinely forgo buying books, skip meals, or drop out of classes. No student should have to make choices that hurt their ability to succeed in school,” said U.S. PIRG’s Higher Education Campaign Director Kaitlyn Vitez. “We thank the senators and representatives for their leadership to address the skyrocketing cost of higher education.”

Textbook costs have increased so dramatically because a handful of publishers control the marketplace, using tactics such as access codes, which hide homework behind a paywall,  and frequent new editions to keep prices high. As a result, many colleges recommend that students budget well over one-thousand dollars a year for books and other class materials, which hits students at community colleges and low-income students particularly hard. Furthermore, according to a study by the Student PIRGs, $3 billion in financial aid goes to pay for textbooks every year.

“One of the most basic higher education costs to students is often overlooked: textbooks,” said Senator Durbin.  “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.”

In the last two federal budgets, Congress set aside a combined $10 million in temporary funding to encourage adoption of open textbooks, particularly in high-enrollment classes and in career and technical education. The Affordable College Textbook Act goes further by:

  • Establishing a grant program to support projects at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks, prioritizing those with the most potential for savings;
  • Strengthening existing price transparency requirements so students can easily identify classes that use open textbooks when they register;
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress with an update on price trends in college textbooks and the impacts that open textbooks have on the market.

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The Student PIRGs are a federation of independent statewide student-directed and student-funded organizations working towards a greener, healthier, and more meaningful future.