Affordable textbook legislation introduced (again): Is it finally time?

Bill introduced as an amendment to the Higher Education Act rather than as a stand-alone as in the past.
By: | Issue: June, 2019
May 23, 2019
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With a single textbook costing up to hundreds of dollars, students and their families have long struggled to finance this aspect of college education. The issue has been on legislators’ radar as well, but efforts to pass a related bill have failed.

The Affordable College Textbook Act proposes the creation of a grant program to provide free access to college textbooks through an open license. It was first introduced in 2013, and reintroduced in 2015 and 2017.

In 2019, the Affordable College Textbook Act was reintroduced again—with the hope it will be considered as part of anticipated overhaul of the Higher Education Act in this Congress. The move could help it get the green light, says Richard Hershman, vice president of government relations for the National Association of College Stores. 

“[The bill] has had past bipartisan support in the House,” he says. “But there are some hot-button issues like Title IX and student loan forgiveness that are also part of the amendments to the Higher Education Act, and as we get closer to the 2020 election and more politics come into play, things get harder to pass.”

In other words, it’s not clear whether affordable textbook legislation will go from concept to codified—and that might be just what professors and administrators want, according to James V. Koch, an economist and president emeritus of Old Dominion University in Virginia.

“Faculty members like textbooks and textbook packages that make life easier for them, [and] to really use a digital textbook package effectively takes some time and training, [so] there’s never been a huge groundswell of support,” he says. “On many campuses, the bookstore is making money from high textbook costs and substantial textbook packages.”

Campus store actions

Koch believes universities should be posting information about the prices and packages available for learning materials, including open-source versions or textbook rentals, so students can make informed decisions. The latest version of the Affordable College Textbook Act includes several changes, such as requirements for stores to post pricing information and offer details about classes that use open-source textbooks.

Even though the current bill has stalled, Congress allocated $5 million in funds for open-source resource grants in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, Hershman says. If legislation is passed, those funds could help lower the cost of course materials. The ultimate goal, he adds, is to make course material affordability one of the success stories in higher education, and passing the Affordable College Textbook Act would be a huge step in the right direction.


Affordable textbook legislation attempts

2013

Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act (S.1704) directing the secretary of education to make grants that would increase the use of open textbooks, making course materials more affordable.

2015

The legislation was reintroduced (S.2176) and amended to include both college textbooks and all supplemental materials developed to accompany the textbooks.

2017

Senator Durbin introduced the bill again (S.1864). It was read twice and referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

2019

The latest version of the legislation (S.1036) was brought to the Senate, thanks to Durbin and three original co-sponsors: Angus King Jr., I-Maine; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz.