Students Endorse New Senate Plan for Affordable Textbooks

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Ethan Senack


Students Endorse New Senate Plan for Affordable Textbooks

Statement of U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate Ethan Senack on the introduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act.

Washington, D.C. – Earlier today, Senator Richard Durbin (IL) and Senator Al Franken (MN) introduced the “Affordable College Textbook Act” that aims to make textbooks more affordable for today’s college students.

With student debt skyrocketing, we can’t afford to increase the financial burden on today’s students. Yet textbooks – a necessary purchase for today’s education – have increased in cost at four times the rate of inflation over the past two decades. The College Board estimates that the average student spent $1,200 on books and supplies in 2013.

Students can’t afford to pay $250 for a single textbook. In fact, U.S. PIRG recently found that seven of ten current college students have skipped buying a textbook because it was too expensive.

It’s clear that the current big-publisher system isn’t working for students.  The constant influx of new editions and the inclusion of online codes and CDs are just a few ways that publishers increase costs for students – who are stuck buying whatever textbook they’re assigned.

Fortunately, the solution is already available. Open-licensed textbooks are faculty-written and peer-reviewed just like published textbooks, but are free online, free to download, and affordable in print.

The cost-saving potential of open textbooks is massive. If just one professor uses one open source textbook in one class of one hundred, it would save students $10,000. If just ten professors use one open textbook, they’ll save students approximately $100,000.

Additionally, open textbooks allow professors to remix their course materials – adding, removing chapters to create a book that more appropriately fits the way they wish to teach.

Today’s bill harnesses the power of technology and innovation to bring college within reach for more and more students. The act creates a competitive grant program for colleges and universities to develop, review, and adopt open source textbooks, placing the highest priority on pilot programs that generate significant cost savings for students.

We applaud Senators Durbin and Franken for standing up for students and championing open textbooks.


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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.