U.S. Sens. Smith, Durbin, King, Sinema Introduce Bill to Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

WASHINGTON, D.C. [04/04/2019]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), introduced legislation that aims to make high-quality textbooks easily accessible and free of charge to students, professors, researchers, and the public. The bill, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would make it possible for colleges to create and expand the use of open college textbooks—textbooks that are free and available online.

Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO 2) introduced a companion bill in the House.

According to The College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2017 2018 academic year was $1,240 at four-year public institutions. And 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 recent years, schools like Minnesota State that are already using open textbooks have saved students money and ultimately brought down the amount of debt that young people graduate with. 

“When I meet with college students, one thing they talk about is how pricey their textbooks are and how it’s tough to afford them. Sometimes textbooks are so expensive that students take the chance and don’t purchase them at all, and try to make it work without the needed material,” said Smith. “Open textbooks can make a huge difference. Many Minnesota students have benefitted from being able to access these free and open educational resources—and I want more students to benefit as well. This is a critical step we can take in the effort to lower the cost of college.”

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

“Textbooks are a central part of a college education – but for students already struggling to keep up with the high cost of college, they are also another serious expense to worry about,” said King. “Let’s take this step to provide real relief for college students so they can focus on what really matters: their studies.”

“Steep textbook costs should never hold an Arizonan back from an education. Our bill increases access to course materials so all students can receive a quality education,” said Sinema.

“As we look at addressing the high-cost of college, we need to look at everything from textbooks to tuition. Many students are already stretched thin financially to afford the education they need, and then must pay on average over $1,000 per year on textbooks to be well-equipped for their classes,” said Neguse. “My bill removes barriers to free, online textbooks, helping students save money and moving us towards more affordable higher education.”

“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.”

“Open textbooks are a proven strategy to save students millions while expanding access and flexibility,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). “This bill will accelerate the use of open educational resources that can be freely downloaded, edited and shared so that higher education can better serve all students.”

Sens. Smith, Durbin, and King, along with then-Representatives Sinema and Jared Polis (D-CO), worked to secure $10 million over Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 for a new Open Textbooks Pilot program based on the Affordable College Textbooks Act. Sen. Smith and her colleagues and Reps. Neguse and Pete King (R-NY) will be requesting an additional $10 million for the Pilot in FY 2020.

The Affordable College Textbook Act:
•    Authorizes a grant program, similar to the Open Textbooks Pilot, to support projects at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for projects that will achieve the highest savings for students;
•    Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using grant funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public, including individuals with disabilities;
•    Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
•    Improves and updates existing requirements for publishers and institutions that provide information on textbook costs for required materials to students on course schedules; and 
•    Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress with an update on the price trends of college textbooks and implementation of the disclosure requirements.
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, and CAST.