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Legislation to Help Make College Textbooks More Affordable

October 21, 2015

U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), along with Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Min.), today introduced legislation designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free. This bill, the Affordable College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program to support the creation and use of open college textbooks – which are available under an open license, allowing professors, students, researchers and others to freely access the materials.

“College students spend thousands of dollars on textbooks over the course of their academic career – and as the cost of those textbooks increases, the harder it becomes to afford them, which only forces students to reach deeper into their pockets or risk jeopardizing their academic careers,” Senator King said. “To help solve this problem, our bill would encourage colleges to develop innovative educational resources, like open textbooks, that can provide the information students need in an affordable way. As we look for ways to gain a better handle on rising college costs, creative programs like these can help position students to succeed academically while saving them money – a win-win for their future.”

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 2014-2015 academic year was $1,225.

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.

The limited federal investment in the creation and expanded use of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks outlined in 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 teaching through course materials that are more flexible, adaptable, and accessible for professors.

Open textbooks are educational resources that are licensed under an open license and made available free of charge to the public. These resources provide a supplement or alternative to traditional textbooks.

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 by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

The Affordable College Textbook Act is support by U.S. PIRG, Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, National Association of College Stores, 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, Association of College & Research Libraries, OurTime.

A one-page summary of the Affordable College Textbook Act is available HERE. Companion legislation was introduced today in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.) and Jared Polis (D-Col.).

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