Senator Smith, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), along with U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-02) introduced bicameral legislation designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors, and the public for free. 

The Affordable College Textbook Act would authorize a competitive grant program to support the creation of and expansion of open college textbooks—textbooks that are available under an open license, allowing professors, students, researchers, and others to freely access the materials.

“Textbooks are a key part of a college education – but for too many students, their cost is exorbitant and a real strain on their budgets,” said Smith. “In Minnesota, we’ve seen how free, open access textbooks can make a huge difference and save students money—and I want more students to reap these benefits. This bill is a critical step in the effort to lower the cost of college for students.”

“Students already are facing momentous barriers to obtaining a college education because of the rising costs of tuition.  On top of this, students are expected to shell out additional dollars to purchase expensive, required textbooks for their coursework,” said Durbin.  “Open textbooks are a tried and true way to save students money while ensuring they have access to quality instructional materials.  I’m introducing the Affordable College Textbook Act again to support students pursuing higher education.”

“Textbooks are a central part of a college education – but for students already struggling to keep up with the rising costs of college, they are also another large expense that is often overlooked,” said King. “The Affordable College Textbook Act will ensure that all students, professors, and researchers — regardless of financial background — can access the educational resources they need through open sources. I want to thank my colleagues for prioritizing our students so that they can focus on what really matters: their studies.”

“Our bill cuts college textbook costs by expanding the use of open-source materials in classrooms across Arizona. It’s a commonsense approach that will save students money,” said Sinema.

“I’m proud to be once again joining Senator Durbin in continuing our work to make the cost of textbooks more affordable for students. Our bill removes barriers to free, online textbooks, helping students save money and moving us towards more affordable higher education,” said Neguse.

Textbook costs can be a substantial barrier for many students pursuing a college education. According to the College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2022-2023 academic year was $1,240 at four-year public institutions.  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.

The Affordable College Textbook Act expands and updates provisions in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. The 2008 law required textbook publishers to disclose the cost of textbooks to faculty and 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.

Smith, Durbin, King, Sinema, and Neguse most recently secured $12 million in funding for the Open Textbook Pilot Program, based on the Affordable College Textbook Act, in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Omnibus appropriations bill.  The FY23 funding will bring the total federal investment in the Open Textbook Pilot to $47 million. It is estimated that projects supported by the Pilot to date will result in more than $250 million in eventual savings for students.

Specifically, the Affordable College Textbook Act:

  1. Authorizes a grant program, similar to the Open Textbook Pilot program for which Congress already has appropriated $47 million, to support projects 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;
  2. Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be free and easily accessible to the public;
  3. Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  4. Improves and update existing requirements for publishers and institutions that provide information on textbook costs, including new disclosure requirements to students on how companies providing digital materials may use student data; and
  5. 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 Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, U.S. PIRG, Student PIRGs, National Association of College Stores, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, Association of College & Research Libraries, Association of Community College Trustees, Association of Research Libraries, Autism Society of America, CAST, Creative Commons, Higher Learning Advocates, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Open Oregon Educational Resources, The Council of Administrators of Special Education, Today’s Students Coalition, UNCF, Washington Student Association, and Young Invincibles.