Durbin, Franken, King, Polis, Sinema Introduce Bicameral Legislation To Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

WASHINGTON – 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 designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors, and the public for free. This bill, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program to support the creation and expand the use of open college textbooks—textbooks that are available under an open license, allowing professors, students, researchers, and others to freely access the materials.

Textbook costs are one of the most overlooked costs of going to college, but they can be substantial and can be a barrier to attaining a college education. According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2015-2016 academic year was $1,250.  According to a survey by U.S. PIRG, 65 percent of students decided not to buy a textbook because of the cost and 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 Sen. Durbin.  “My home state of Illinois provides an example of how federal support for open textbooks can be successful.  Over seven years ago, I worked to secure funding for the University of Illinois to complete an open textbook project.  In 2012, the textbook that was produced from this effort was published electronically, is free to use, and has been in regular use at the University of Illinois campuses and now throughout the country.  This bill can replicate and build on this success and help make the cost of attending college more affordable for all students.” 

“During my time in the Senate, I’ve met with college students from all across Minnesota,” said Sen. Franken. “At each of these meetings, I heard the same thing: students are working longer and longer hours during the school year and still have to take on massive amounts of debt. And part of the problem is that the cost of textbooks and supplies is through the roof. I believe expanding access to free online textbooks is a commonsense solution that will bring down college costs and keep more money in students’ pockets.” 

“To effectively address the cost of college, we must consider all the tools a student needs to succeed, and the rising cost of textbooks is a serious, but often-overlooked impediment to the pursuit of higher education,” Sen. King said.  “Encouraging colleges to develop innovative, low-cost educational resources – including open source textbooks – would ease this burden for students and help them focus on their schoolwork. By reducing costs for students across the country, we can expand opportunities, strengthen our economy, and support the next generation of leaders.”

"To reduce the skyrocketing cost of college, we have to think about everything from tuition to textbooks.  Textbook costs on top of tuition truly add up and can mean the difference between going to college or being priced out.  Our bill removes barriers to free, online textbooks, helping students save money, while getting the best, most up-to-date content.  It’s really page one in addressing college affordability,” said Rep. Polis. 

“Education was my ticket to a better life, but skyrocketing college costs put higher education out of reach for too many Arizona families,” said Rep. Sinema. “This commonsense solution brings down the cost of textbooks, helping families make their hard-earned dollars go further. We’ll work with anyone to ensure crushing student debt doesn’t stand in the way of the American Dream.”

The Affordable College Textbook Act expands on the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which contained provisions from Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act that aimed to make more information available to students looking to manage college textbook costs. Durbin introduced his bill after learning of troubling practices by the publishing industry to create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense. The 2008 law required textbook publishers to disclose to faculty the cost of a textbook to their students, required schools to publish textbook price information in course catalogues when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials so students had choices. The provisions took effect on July 1, 2010.

 While a June 2013 GAO Report required by the law found that students had more information and publishers and schools were generally complying with the new disclosure requirements, it also found that the price of textbooks had continued to rise. 

Federal investment in the creation and expanded use of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks through the Affordable College Textbook Act can improve learning, access, and affordability for all college students. Making high-quality open textbooks freely available to the general public can significantly lower college textbook costs and increase accessibility to higher education. Open textbooks can also improve learning and instruction through course materials that are more flexible, adaptable, and accessible for professors. 

“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,” said Kaitlyn Vitez, Higher Education Advocate at U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “Open textbooks are a big step towards keeping higher education accessible for all students. We thank the senators for their continued leadership to address the cost of higher education on all fronts.”

“This bill takes a critical step toward solving the expensive textbook crisis,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC. “Too many students are choosing not to buy their course materials because they cannot afford them. As we think about college affordability, we should focus on proven solutions that deliver meaningful, long-term savings for students, and open educational resources are the most effective path forward.  We’re grateful to Senators Durbin, Franken, and King and Representatives Polis and Sinema for their leadership on this issue.”

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.

The Affordable College Textbook Act is supported by U.S. PIRG, Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, National Association of College Stores, Association of Big Ten Students, Young Invincibles, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, UNCF, Creative Commons, Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College & Research Libraries.