New bill to provide cheaper textbooks

As the new semester approaches, one concern for students is purchasing new textbooks. Different individuals swear by certain methods or websites that make buying these textbooks at least slightly more affordable.

Despite all the ways one can try and save money on books, the Annual Survey of Colleges published by the College Board last year showed that on average students spend $1,200 on textbooks and supplies every year. That number increases to almost $1,250 for students who attend private colleges.

The high cost of textbooks is likely to increase. Economics professor Mark J. Perry of the University of Michigan found that “Compared to the 250 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the last 34 years, college textbooks have risen more than three times the amount of the average increase for all goods and services.”

Essentially, college textbook and supply prices have risen faster than rates of inflation over the last three decades.

Some schools have made textbooks available for free online for everyone, not only students. These campuses utilize what is called open educational resources (OER). Some schools utilizing OER are The University of Minnesota, Rice University, Tidewater Community College and Washington’s community and technical colleges.

According to the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Open Resources Library of the Washington community and technical colleges, which was funded by the state and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has saved students $5.5 million as of this year and $2.9 million during the 2012-2013 school year alone.

Two senators have introduced a bill that addresses the high price of textbooks and takes note of how successful OERs have been for schools that utilize these programs. Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Al Franken introduced the bill, named the Affordable College Textbook Act, in early November.

Representatives Rubén Hinojosa and George Miller introduced the bill to the House. In a story by the U.S. PIRG about the bill, Hinojosa was quoted as saying, “I have always strived to make college more accessible and more affordable for students and this legislation will lessen the high cost of an important commodity for learning while helping students save money.”

Durbin was also quoted as saying, “Textbook costs, often overlooked, can be a substantial barrier to attaining a college education.”

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has been very supportive of the bill especially because of the reasons laid out by its creators. In order for higher education to be truly accessible, there needs to be something done to address the outrageously high cost of textbooks. Not only would this bill save students money, it would also make use of the capacities of online textbooks. Since textbooks can often become worthless because they are out of date, students can lose money trying to sell them back, but if they are available online, they can be updated as it becomes necessary.

The bill would also be beneficial for schools. The bill states that schools utilizing open textbook programs would be eligible to receive grants from the government.

This bill is an essential part of making education more accessible. It would give schools an incentive to help students in a large way that has already been proven effective by those institutions that have taken steps on their own to implement OER programs.