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Your Textbooks, Paid for by the USA

The cost of college textbooks has increased 812 percent since 1978 – that’s three times the rate of inflation!

Elizabeth Hoyt

December 09, 2013

Your Textbooks, Paid for by the USA
If you haven’t heard about it yet, you might be interested in learning more about the Affordable College Textbook Act. The legislation was recently introduced in November of 2013 by two democratic senators, Sen. Dick Durbin from Illinois and Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota. Soon thereafter, House Representatives Rubén Hinojosa and George Miller joined the campaign with a complimentary bill on the same subject.

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If you’re a student, the parent of one, or were recently enrolled in school, you already know that the prices of textbooks per semester are more than outrageous. In fact, the Senators’ legislation was originally inspired by a study performed by Congress, which found that the average student spends at least $1,200 on textbooks annually. According to data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of college textbooks has increased 812 percent since 1978 – that’s three times the rate of inflation!

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Furthermore, recent studies have found that nearly 70 percent of students have skipped buying a required textbook for a course because it was too costly, even though 78 percent of those same students knew it would mean their grade would likely suffer as a result. In a day and age where students can barely pay for tuition, let alone courses, something’s got to give and, often times that something tends to be the unaffordable course materials.

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Is that really fair? Should a student’s academic standing have to suffer because of the cost of a book? The idea behind the legislation is that the government should bankroll the massive textbook costs by licensing the content directly from publishing companies and offer them for free to students electronically or, if printed, for an incredibly reduced price point. The bill calls for the Department of Education to establish funding through grants for higher education institutions to utilize open educational resources (i.e. free electronic textbooks) in order to reduce textbook costs for students. As outlined in the bill, the key impacts the legislation hopes to accomplish are: Cost savings – According to the SPARC web site, studies found that utilizing open textbooks an save students around $100 per course (which means, one professor teaching a 100-student course for one year could save students $20,000). High quality materials – All resources developed through the grants will be available to all colleges, faculty and students across the country to use freely. Supporting innovation – Open educational resource models are rapidly emerging and this bill would help foster and develop the best practices to share with other institutions looking to incorporate such resources. How Does an Open Textbook Work, Anyway? Students taking a class that uses an open textbook are able to download the content of the book for free or for an extremely low fee to their tablet, laptop or computer. They also have the option to print out the sections they need (which ends up being cheaper than purchasing a fully printed book from a campus bookstore). At times, the books allow for peer or professor-modification, depending on the settings. This isn't the first time the subject has been broached. In fact, many colleges have already used grants to do exactly what this bill is suggesting, just on a smaller scale, like at the University of Illinois. The school adopted an Open Source Textbook Initiative and, according to Senator Durbin, received a $150,000 grant as a result. As a country, we preach affordable education. We value freedom of information. As a result, the country offering knowledge via textbooks would likely omit a lot of barriers to students across the nation. Certainly, the ultimate goal should be limiting the cost of higher education as a whole. But, limiting the cost of anything that involves higher education is a step in the right direction. Those in support of the bill can utilize social media, using hastag #oerusa to spread the word or visit Support the Affordable College Textbook Act to learn more information as well as the latest details on the legislation’s progress.

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