Congress Moves to Make College Textbooks More Affordable

President Joe Biden just signed an omnibus spending bill that increases funding for the Open Textbooks Pilot program, and Democrats have introduced a bill that would make many textbooks free.
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Published on March 14, 2022
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  • The omnibus spending bill includes $11 million for the Open Textbooks Pilot program.
  • The program will reportedly save students more than $200 million.
  • Democrats also re-introduced legislation that would make many textbooks free.

Congress just increased funding for a program making college textbooks more affordable, and Democratic leaders introduced a bill that would make such educational materials free and easily accessible.

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed an omnibus spending bill last week for fiscal year 2022 that includes $11 million for the Open Textbooks Pilot program. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Friday.

Since 2018, the program has provided grants to colleges and universities that create or expand the use of open textbooks — free-to-access books from which professors can plan lessons in order to save students money.

The 2022 appropriation is a $4 million increase from 2021 funding levels, according to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Previous spending bills have pumped a total of $24 million into the Open Textbooks Pilot since 2018. According to SPARC, that money has funded 16 projects, which are projected to save students an estimated $220 million.

However, recognizing how the cost of books and supplies continues to weigh on many students, some legislators are working to create solutions beyond just this pilot program.

According to a 2021 report from College Board, a student at a four-year college spends an average of $1,240 on books and supplies.

Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois announced last Thursday the re-introduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act. Legislators have considered this bill in the last four Congresses.

The Affordable College Textbook Act would create a similar grant program to the Open Textbooks Pilot and prioritize projects that will achieve the highest savings for students. It would also create more requirements for textbook publishers about what information they must provide to students about book costs.

Textbooks and open educational resources created using federal grants would need to be free and easily accessible to the public under the act. That includes being accessible to students with disabilities.

"The cost of higher education adds up quickly. With the high cost of traditional textbooks, many students are declining to purchase required course materials, putting them at an academic disadvantage," Sen. Durbin said in a statement. "We know that open textbooks can be and have been successful in keeping costs down and helping students reach their full potential in the classroom. The Affordable College Textbook Act will show Congress' long-term commitment to helping ease the financial burden of higher education."

Co-sponsors in the Senate include Angus King of Maine, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, according to Durbin's statement. Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado introduced the legislation to the House of Representatives.