U.S. Congress considers Affordable Textbook Act

Jose Rodriguez, senior, helps Estevan Mares, junior, check out at the book store on Oct. 22 in Allendale, MI.

Kasey Garvelink

Jose Rodriguez, senior, helps Estevan Mares, junior, check out at the book store on Oct. 22 in Allendale, MI.

Meghan McBrady

With the increasing costs of a higher education coupled with the growing concerns over student debt and lack of government funding for public universities, many students are wondering whether they can afford the expense of buying or renting their textbooks throughout the school year.

The College Board, a private nonprofit corporation that was formed to expand access to higher education, estimated that the average student in the U.S. spends around $1,200 a year on books and supplies.

In a 2013 survey, the Government Accountability Office reported that between 2002 and 2012, the price of textbooks rose 82 percent – 6 percent on average, every year – which is nearly three times the rate of inflation.

Scott St. Louis, a senior at Grand Valley State University, said the issue of accessing material is a two-way street. He indicated that if professors were surprised by students forgoing the available options for acquiring a textbook, expense would most likely be the issue at hand.

“Through direct purchase, through rental or even through sharing with a friend, I strongly encourage students to access all of the materials that they are required to read for a given course,” St. Louis said. “When students refuse entirely to access course content, they’re only hurting themselves in the long-run.”

Currently a digital intern for research and community outreach at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), St. Louis has worked with students, professors and librarians throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world to establish an open access to academic research and resources – such as online textbooks.

Enter the Affordable College Textbook Act.

The bill, which was introduced to the U.S. Senate this month, would establish a grant program that would support an open use of college textbooks. Under that open license, these textbooks would allow students, professors and others to freely access the materials needed for a classroom.

“There are many causes behind the rising costs of college education, so the Affordable College Textbook Act isn’t going to change things overnight,” St. Louis said. “However, it’s a step in the right direction. My main hope is that its movement through Congress promotes greater public discussion about some of the hidden structural problems in academia that do tremendous harm to the public.”

St. Louis also noted that although the bill has some time before it potentially becomes a law and is a bit too early to consider the effects at GVSU, being flexible and accessible to affordable materials will help all students and their learning.

“Studies have found that students in courses using open textbooks earn higher grades and drop out less frequently, likely due to better access to the text,” he said. “What could be better than that?”

Jordyn McCarthy, a junior in the social work program at GVSU, also noted the benefit of moving toward a more online-based format of studying.

“My teachers are understanding and tend to choose cheaper books or not the newest edition,” McCarthy said. “But that wasn’t how it was when I had science and gen. ed. classes. Social work is more understanding, but it’s ridiculous considering I have classes that I don’t always read for. We just need to move forward now, have more books online and have an open access to materials like the readings uploaded on Blackboard.”

For further information about the Affordable College Textbook Act, visit www.sparc.arl.org/advocacy/national/act.