Democrat textbook bill pushes to make textbooks free and available to students online
The days of being forced to buy the most recent edition of a book that only switched a few chapters around or even changed an excess of four words may be numbered.
Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Al Franken, D-Minn., filed a bill named the Affordable College Textbook Act in early November 2013. This bill, which creates a grant program for colleges and universities, is geared toward jump-starting the innovation and expansion of currently used textbooks for online use and with free access.
For several universities, the program has already found success. With a $150,000 grant, the University of Illinois began the Open Source Textbook Initiative. The university developed a book that is not only available to anyone and everyone but is also readily updated when new information is available. It’s also completely free.
“This bill can replicate and build on (these universities’) success and help make the cost of attending college more affordable,” Durbin said.
A major issue with textbooks is the rate at which they become outdated. If a company decides to add a chapter or change a few sentences, the book is not rendered worthless. And while that can be a great thing for us bargain hunters, it can become problematic when the class centers around that one new chapter that your copy does not have. For this reason, according to the Huffington Post, in a 2011 survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven out of 10 undergraduate students claim they have chosen to forfeit buying at least one textbook.
According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of textbooks has increased at a rate of 812 percent since 1978. That is three times the rate of inflation. In a report from the Government Accountability Office, college textbook prices rose 82 percent in the last decade.
“Textbooks are too expensive. And e-books are very convenient. Honestly, the financial strain wasn’t too bad because I make decent money, but college students have it hard, and things are expensive enough already. So the cheaper the books, the better,” said supply chain management sophomore Kevin Der-Antonio.
There is no denying that alongside tuition, student fees, housing and gas — among the other bills that pile up — many of us have been too overwhelmed and too overcharged to fathom paying an excess of $80 or more for that textbook we know we won’t bother to read. In many cases, it has become more and more tempting to just not buy a book or two or even just put up half the price and share with a buddy. In some classes, the textbooks are online for the so-called purpose of saving students some money. This would be easier to believe if the online key-code wasn’t $80 to $115, whether it’s from the bookstore or the company itself.
“Textbooks are really expensive. The state should consider that we are college students under severe financial burden and that online textbooks will be much more convenient for us. I work for my money, and as a result, I go from school to work with no stops in between. Carrying around books isn’t beneficial to anyone, especially considering that (an online book) can be accessed from anywhere, especially on my phone,” said kinesiology freshman Stephanie Benza.
This legislation also calls for reports from the U.S Department of Education to the Senate’s education committee before 2016. These reports would explain whether implementing these changes saved students money. As of July 2017, a report of price changes to college textbooks versus traditional ones would need to be submitted to the controller general of the United States.
“The dirty secret about textbooks is that they don’t have to be so expensive given the rise of technology. Even worse, if you put textbook debt in a larger context with student debt, the affordability of college is becoming less and less tenable, and, as a result, the American dream is becoming more difficult for the next generation to attain,” said Matthew Segal, the co-founder of OurTime.org, in an interview with the Huffington Post.
While most of us may never see these changes during our time at UH, hopefully those students yet to come will not be plagued with the financial strains of textbooks to which we are all too accustomed.
Opinion columnist Juanita Deaver is an anthropology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]