U.S. Sens. Smith, Durbin, King, Sinema, Rep. Neguse Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

WASHINGTON, D.C. [03/10/22]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senators Angus King (I-ME), Kyrsten Sinema (D-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 legislation, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would authorize a competitive grant program to support the creation of 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 The College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2021-2022 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. 

Senator Smith has spoken with students across Minnesota who shared stories of going without textbooks or sharing textbooks with friends and classmates as a way to lower costs.

“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 Sen. Smith. “In Minnesota, we’ve seen how free, online textbooks can make a huge difference. Many Minnesota students have already benefitted from being able to access free and open educational resources—and I want more students to benefit. This bill is a critical step in the effort to lower the cost of college.” 

“The cost of higher education adds up quickly. With the high cost of traditional textbooks, many students are declining to purchase required course materials, putting them at an academic disadvantage,” said Sen. Durbin. “We know that open textbooks can be and have been successful in keeping costs down and helping students reach their full potential in the classroom. The Affordable College Textbook Act will show Congress’ long term commitment to helping ease the financial burden of higher education, and I remain committed to securing federal investment in these resources through the Open Textbooks Pilot at the Department of Education.”

“Textbooks are an essential part of college’s educational experience – but they too often come at a prohibitively high cost for students struggling with tuition,” said Sen. King. “In recent years, we’ve seen strong success in lowering costs through the Open Textbook Pilot Program, and this legislation would build on that progress to help ensure that every student has the tools they need to get the most out of their education.”

“We’re empowering Arizona students with increased access to school materials because high textbook costs should never hold back an Arizonan from pursuing their dreams,” said Sen. Sinema.

“I firmly believe we must ensure equal opportunity for education and expanding access to free, online textbooks is a common-sense and innovative way to set every student up to succeed,” said Rep. Neguse. “The affordable textbooks pilot program has cleared barriers for students across the country, saving many individuals over $1,000 on the cost of college. This week, we secured $11 million for the pilot program for FY2022 and I’m pleased to continue our efforts to expand this vital program alongside Senator Durbin and others with our legislation introduced today.”

The Affordable College Textbook Act expands and updates provisions from the College Textbook Affordability Act contained in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. The provisions aimed to make more information available to students looking to manage college textbook costs. 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.

Smith, Durbin, King, Sinema, and Neguse secured $11 million in funding for the Open Textbook Pilot Program, based on the Affordable College Textbook Act, in the recently released Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill passed by the House and expected to be taken up by the Senate soon. The funding will provide complete funding for the second and third year for awards first funded in Fiscal Year 2021 and support a new grant competition process. If passed, the FY22 funding will bring the total federal investment in the Open Textbooks Pilot to $35 million. It is estimated that projects supported by the Pilot to date will result in more than $220 million in eventual savings for students. 

Specifically, 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—including new disclosure requirements to students on how companies providing digital materials may use student data; 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, Young Invincibles, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, American Association of Community Colleges, Creative Commons, Association of Research Libraries, Association of College & Research Libraries, Achieving the Dream, Washington Student Association, Open Oregon Educational Resourcesand Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education.