U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) wants to help make higher education more affordable and accessible for students by reducing college textbook costs.
Durbin on Thursday co-introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, which aims to expand access to open textbooks that can be downloaded for free by students, researchers and others. Specifically, the Affordable College Textbook Act would establish a competitive grant program to support open textbook pilot programs at colleges and universities.
"Textbook costs are one of the most overlooked barriers to college affordability and access, and they continue to get more expensive," Durbin said on a Thursday conference call with reporters.
New textbook costs increased 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, Durbin said, citing research from the Government Accountability Office. Last school year, students spent an average of $1,225 on college books and supplies, according to the College Board.
Durbin noted that back in 2012, faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used a federal grant to create an environmental textbook that was published electronically for free and open use.
"At least a dozen schools throughout the country have contacted the University of Illinois about the text or are using it today. The book was also used in a Massive Open Online Course on Coursera that has been sampled by at least 60,000 students," Durin added in a news release. "The Affordable College Textbook Act can replicate and build on the successes we've already seen in Illinois. I hope college faculty throughout the country will explore the opportunities that exist today to use open source materials in their courses to save students money, and I hope my colleagues in Congress will support this legislation to provide federal support to that effort."
Durbin co-introduced the legislation with Sens. Al Franken (D-MN.) and Angus King (I-ME). U.S. Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX,15) and Jared Polis (D-CO,2) introduced companion legislation in the House on Thursday.
U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is one of the bill's supporters.
"For students and families that are already struggling to afford a college education, it's not just an expensive textbook anymore - it's a serious barrier," said Ethan Senack, U.S. PIRG's higher education advocate. "For decades, publishers have capitalized on their captive market. This bill restores some competition to an industry where just a handful of publishing giants have managed to prevent it - saving students a ton of money and potentially improving student outcomes at the same time. It's a no-brainer."