On November 14th, US Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced Senate Bill 1704, also known as the “Affordable College Textbook Act.” This legislation aims to reduce or even eliminate the cost of college textbooks through implementing open source materials, instead of the current textbooks which cost an average of $1,200 annually for each college student. Via NBCNews:
The College Board found that the average student at a four-year public college spends $1,200 on “books and supplies,” or nearly $1,250 if they go to a private school. On the public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a fellow, University of Michigan-Flint economics professor Mark J. Perry highlighted a chart showing an 812 percent increase in the cost of college textbooks since 1978, a jump even higher than the percentage growth in the cost of health care.
“Students are, in essence, a captive market,” said Ethan Senack, higher education associate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The publishing industry is dominated by five companies that dominate upwards of 85 percent of the market.”
“I think part of it is the consolidation… There’s less competition now,” Perry said. “The other thing that irritates students and professors quite a bit is they’ve really sped up the publishing schedule,” with new editions coming out every couple of years.
What does speeding up the publishing schedule do? It makes old textbooks less valuable for resale or trade in, and often completely worthless. When I was in college over a decade ago, it wasn’t unusual to pay $90 or more for a single required textbook, only to find out that it had little or no trade in value at the end of the semester. On subjects that I already had a very firm grasp of, I’d either not buy the textbooks if I didn’t absolutely have to or share with a classmate to save costs. The textbook market, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS), made approximately $10.45 billion in 2011-2012. Needless to say, this is an industry that will most certainly fight any legislation that would threaten their stranglehold on a very lucrative niche market dominated by just a few major publishers.
So what will the Affordable College Textbook Act do? According to Senator Durbin’s website, it will accomplish the following:
Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public;
Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.
American students graduated college with an average of $35,200 in education-related debt in 2013, so with the era of smartphones and tablets, why are we forcing them to purchase paper textbooks that cost hundreds of dollars each that will likely be only good for the recycling bin within a semester or two? Why not use a system that allows us reduce paper use, reduce student debt and ensure a uniform educational experience across our institutes of higher learning? Our students are graduating with too much debt already – we owe it to them to do whatever we can do to reduce those costs. I’d encourage you to support the Affordable College Textbook Act, and ask your elected officials to do the same.
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