Senators Propose Affordable College Textbook Act

textbooks are expensive
textbooks are expensive
FILE PHOTO | THE SPECTRUM
Nursing students often pay up to $500 on textbooks per semester.

As a junior in the nursing program, Liz Dauk said this has been her cheapest semester yet.

This fall, she spent over $400 on textbooks. Her first semester on campus, she spent closer to $1,300.

She said nursing students can expect to pay about $450 to $500 per semester on textbooks alone. That doesn’t include the cost of additional needed supplies — scrubs, stethoscopes, required clothing and kits.

Though she loves the program, Dauk said that “all of the hidden costs are a little frustrating.”

In the last 30 years, college textbook prices have risen three times faster than the rate of inflation, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

In comparison, the price of a college textbook has increased faster than tuition, health care costs and housing prices. Since 1978, the cost has increased 812 percent.

Today, College Board recommends the average student budget $1,200 for one year’s worth of books and supplies. The number that daunts Dauk and others like her across the country.

In early October, Senate Democrats introduced a bill hoping to reduce costs for students and compete with textbook publishers.

The Affordable College Textbook Act would offer grants to support the creation and use of open textbooks — books available under an open licence to use, share and adapt for free.

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), who introduced the bill to Congress, said in an Oct. 8 press call they hope the bill could save students thousands of dollars.

Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the skyrocketing cost of textbooks is often overlooked.

“The reality is that our college students are taking on more debt than ever while also working more and more hours to stay afloat,” he said. “ … our bill would help address this problem and allow students and families to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

The act would support university programs focused on the creation of open textbooks.

The goal is to create an incentive for professors to write, build courses around and adapt already existing textbooks students can access freely rather than those that costs students hundreds of dollars.

“I think it would make college more affordable and students would be able to do better in their classes,” Dauk said. “I know some students don’t get their books because they can’t afford them, and then their grades suffer.”

Sen. Durbin could not assign a total cost to the initiative, but promised the use of open-source books is “cost effective.”

Ethan Senack, a higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, cited campuses where similar grant programs have succeeded like the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which he said spent between $40,000 and $60,000 in grants to adopt open-source textbooks.

In four years, it’s saved students over $1.3 million.

Dauk said she knows of some professors who have written or modified books for their courses.

Still, she seemed unsure others might be willing to take that extra step to find, create or adapt an open textbook if they have an option that works as is.

“Honestly in the nursing department, I don’t think the professors would be,” she said. “But if they are truly passionate and care about the students, I believe they would.”

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