Rising Costs of Textbooks Prompts Lawmakers to Hit the Books: How One Bill Plans to Help Students Save Hundreds

Consumer prices for college textbooks have increased 88 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photo by Jennifer Sauceda

For the sixth time in ten years, the Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill, proposed again in April by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, is designed to expand access to open educational resources and alleviate the increasing costs of college textbooks and supplies for students.

While many students don’t know much about the bill, they are still feeling the pain of escalating prices for required texts.

“Every semester I feel like I have to pay extra just to end up getting less. The prices of textbooks are getting ridiculous,” said junior business major Oliver Boyse.

The estimated cost of textbooks and supplies for the 2018-19 school year is $1,240 for private non-profit universities, according to the College Board. However, Chapman’s estimated cost of attendance averages the cost of textbooks and supplies at $1,560.

There may be a glimmer of hope for those hoping to spend less on their textbooks.

Congress took a first step in support of OER [Open Educational Resources] last year by appropriating $10 million for Open Textbook Pilot grants through the U.S. Department of Education,” according to an article by SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a group that works to democratize access to knowledge.  A SPARC representative who specializes in this topic was contacted, but could not comment by deadline.  

Neither of the two California senators, Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, have made an official statement regarding their views of the Affordable College Textbook Act and did not respond to two phone messages left with their press lines to ascertain their support.

If the legislation becomes law, universities such as Chapman may apply for a federal grant awarded to institutions of higher education which plan on establishing a free online textbook program or which plan on expanding an existing program.

Students say the Affordable Text act would be a great financial relief.

“A lot of times we don’t have either the time to work or the time to work a lot and our money is going towards other things so having those materials available and accessible to students I think is important,” said psychology major Julie Johnson.

Despite preferring physical textbooks over online versions, Johnson, a senior, would be satisfied with a free online version as long as she can print out the pages to read.

If faculty shows enough interest in implementing open textbooks, Chapman could do so without waiting for legislation to pass, according to Kristin Laughtin-Dunker, Chapman’s Coordinator of Scholarly Communications and Electronic Resources at Leatherby Libraries.

“We don’t need to wait for Congress to pass the Affordable College Textbook Act. That is part of why the Leatherby Libraries are seeking to expand and market their services to help faculty who are interested in adopting open textbooks for any of their courses,” said Laughtin-Dunker.

The library has “many items that faculty have used as required readings” as well as expensive textbooks. Laughtin-Dunker encourages students to check the library before purchasing.

Besides renting or buying used textbooks, some students have found other ways of obtaining required texts.

“This semester one student had the online textbook… and she sent out the link to the rest of the class,” senior Romina Haghighat said. “It was a big class there was probably 40 or 50 kids in the class and she sent it to all of us.”

Haghighat, a psychology major, has found that textbooks required for her major tend to be more expensive than those she purchased for her general education courses.

“[My sociology book] was probably $115 and my psych book was probably $120 or $130,” Haghighat shared.

Although she tries to save money by renting textbooks on sites such as Chegg and Amazon, Haghighat resorts to the university’s bookstore for courses that require a Chapman-specific version of the required text.

“I’ll first look online because I know they’re cheaper online than at the bookstore, but…if only the Chapman bookstore has it then I have to buy it from there,” she said.


Amir Ghani and Jennifer Sauceda

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