Durbin Introduces Legislation to Make College Textbooks More Affordable

WASHINGTON, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 24, 2009.  Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation designed to help students manage costs by making textbooks available to students, professors and the public for free on an easily-accessible website.  This bill, known as the Open College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education, professors and organizations to create textbooks that can be made available online and licensed under terms that grant the public the right to access, customize and distribute the material, also known as “open textbooks”.

“Over the past decade, I have watched textbook publishers use technology to drive up the cost of textbooks through unnecessary online supplements and CD-ROMs,” said Durbin.  “Today, the average college student spends between $800 and $1,200 on textbooks every year.  It is time that we use the potential of technology to improve college access, learning and affordability for all students.  I believe the Open College Textbook Act that I am introducing today will accomplish that goal.”

According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 200,000 qualified students fail to enroll in college each year due to cost.  The high cost of college textbooks can be a significant financial barrier for many students.   At the same time, the growth of the Internet has enabled the creation and sharing of open content, including open educational resources.

“Textbook prices can be the difference between going to college and dropping out because of cost.  This bill takes a step toward textbook affordability by calling for more high quality, low-cost options,” said U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate Rich Williams.

The short term, limited federal investment in the creation of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks outlined in the Open 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.

The Open College Textbook Act would:

* Authorize funding through fiscal year 2015 for the Secretary of Education to award one-year competitive grants to create, update or adapt high-quality introductory level open college textbooks;

* Require applicants to provide a plan for quality review, a plan to ensure the widest possible availability of the textbook, a plan to ensure the widest possible adoption of the textbook in college courses and a plan for tracking and reporting adoptions of the text book at colleges;

* Require the Secretary of Education to give special consideration to applicants that demonstrate the ability to produce the highest quality textbooks, textbooks for the highest enrollment college courses, textbooks that are easily used by professors and textbooks in partnership with an organization to assist in marketing and distribution;

* Require a report to the Secretary of Education from the grant recipient detailing the costs of the project and a report from the Secretary to Congress on the savings generated for students through the use of open textbooks; and

* Direct that any curriculum or textbook created through federal grants for use in classrooms be licensed under an open license and made freely available to the public.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed by Congress last year, contained provisions from Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act which will help make college textbook costs more manageable for students through a number of steps.  The legislation requires publishers to provide certain information to faculty and requires colleges that receive federal assistance to provide parents and students with more access to information by printing the price of textbooks and supplementary materials in the course schedules.  Additionally, publishers who bundle course material will also be required to offer the textbooks and supplemental material in unbundled versions.

“A little over a year ago, the Higher Education Opportunity Act which includes provisions that I authored to increase transparency in college textbook pricing for professors and students was signed into law,” said Durbin.  “I hope that new law will help decrease the high cost of textbooks when these provisions are enacted next year, but there is more that the federal government can do to provide more affordable alternatives to professors and students.”