College students shouldn’t have to make this choice

Blog Post

For more than 15 years the Student PIRGs have been working to fix the broken textbook market and help make higher education more affordable for every college student in America by advocating for open textbooks that are available under an open license, allowing professors, students, researchers, and others to freely access the materials.

No one should be denied the opportunity for success solely because they can’t afford the textbook for a college class.

Over the years, the Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable campaign helped convince Congress to launch a pilot program that could save students $50 million per year; worked with a coalition of student government leaders to get the U.S. Department of Justice to block a merger between two leading textbook publishers; and helped campuses across the country implement “course marking,” which allows students to see the full cost of all the materials for their classes before signing up.

Now, students are continuing to build on that momentum. As part of their DC lobby day last month, more than 90 student leaders from 15 key states met with more than 50 congressional offices in support of the bicameral Affordable College Textbooks Act, introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), along with Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), which would authorize a competitive grant program to support the creation of and expand the use of open college textbooks.

Open Education Week 2022

After our Lobby Day, during this year’s Open Education Week, we organized a briefing for Congressional staff, 20 of whom joined a webinar hosted by the Student PIRGs and our partners at SPARC to learn about the Federal Open Textbooks Pilot Grant Program that we helped establish in 2018, and to hear from previous year’s open textbook grantees. Graceanne Hoback, a freshman at Florida State University and student leader with Florida PIRG Campus Action, briefed the congressional staff on the impact of high textbook costs.

Florida PIRG’s Graceanne Hoback presents to Congressional staff about the impact of textbooks prices on students.

At the local level, PIRG student leaders raised their voices to call for more open textbook programs. Fifteen PIRG chapters from nine states organized events or actions to coincide with the week, with 43 student volunteers helping to lead actions to push our higher education system forward, from panel discussions and collecting signatures on campus, to engaging with a campus administrator or professor and educating them about open textbooks.

The result of that outreach? Fifty campus administrators and professors signed on to our campaign, agreeing to support the adoption of open textbooks. Student leaders garnered media coverage by submitting nine letters-to-the-editor to local and campus papers.

Paula Suwwan (pictured right) is a junior studying Government at Smith College. She is the President and Make Textbooks Affordable campaign coordinator for MASSPIRG at Smith. She started interning for PIRG last spring, but has been involved in student activism since high school.

Paula organized an educational event on campus where volunteers distributed dozens of open textbook resource guides to students, collected signatures in support of a campus-wide open textbook program, and helped students write letters to their local paper.

At the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the campus OER Coalition (made up of MASSPIRG Students, the Undergraduate Student Government, the Library, IT, the Provost Office, and faculty members) organized three events.

At these events, including a virtual panel (pictured right), coalition members educated faculty members about the benefits of open textbooks. The OER Coalition has two goals: to implement course marking (which allows students to see the full cost of course materials during course registration) and an incentive program for professors to switch from traditional to open textbooks. MASSPIRG Students were able to provide a student perspective and voice on course materials that is often missing from higher education decisions.

I’m so proud of the work that our student leaders are doing to make higher education more affordable and accessible. If you have any questions about our program or want to learn more, please reach out! Give me a call or text at (858) 353-1452‬, reply to this email, or follow me on Twitter @DanLikeDawn.


Dan Xie
Political Director
Student PIRGs