Digital textbook advancements may save students money

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE| Daily Egyptian

In a world of rising tuition cost, college students may finally see some reduction to the money they pay for textbooks.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, proposed  the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would establish a grant program for universities across the nation to allow students access online, public textbooks, also known as open textbooks.

“The students … and many parents know that textbook costs are one of the most overlooked barriers to college affordability and access,” Durbin said during a conference call on Thursday to discuss the bill.


Durbin said schools wanting to participate in the program must submit a grant proposal to receive an open textbook. During the application process, described by Durbin as competitive, reviewers will select to best proposals to appropriate money. In fact, some institutions of higher education have already implemented the open textbook system.

The University of Illinois used a $150,000 grant to fund a single open textbook which would have originally cost students $150 each. The book, which is currently available online, has not only saved students at the University of Illinois money but has also been used outside of the university where 60,000 students have accessed the book.

In the past for years, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst — which offers $1,000 to $2,500  in grants for instructors to use open textbooks — has saved students $1.5 million in textbook costs through the adoption of online books.

Ethan Senack, higher education advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said textbook costs contribute to the struggle low-income students face affording a college education.

“One thing is very clear: the traditional publishing market isn’t delivering the material students need at the prices they can afford,” Senack said.

KaChana Davis, a freshman exploratory student from Kankakee said she chose not to buy some of her books because they were too expensive, and in many instances, she needed multiple books for a single class.

Jarvaus Burks, a sophomore from Chicago studying aviation flight, said he chose not a buy an expensive textbook for a class he later dropped because he was failing. Burks later took the class again with the textbook and passed with a B.


Burks said he spends most of his money on tuition and fees, so he does not usually have the funds to pay for textbooks on top of tuition. 

Senack called students a “captive market” to textbook companies, as they cannot choose what books to buy.

Many students need textbooks for a vital classroom resource, but many times, they cannot complete their classwork because they cannot afford the books — a frustration Davis knows all too well. 

“Right now, I have a paper to write, but I have to cite stuff out of a book that I don’t have,” Davis said. “You have to find people [to share books] … You have to use your resources.”

Senack said the open textbooks available now have the ability to save students more than a billion dollars a year. 

“This bill restores some competition to an industry where just a handle of giants have managed to prevent it,” Senack said. 

Durbin said textbooks costs rose 82 percent from 2002 to 2012. 

According to College Board, average textbook costs now total $1,200 a year for a student.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, said the bill has yet to be written and taken to the floor. 

“When we live in an age of access to internet — where students wouldn’t be caught without their laptop — we have to really understand that the traditional textbook market is changing,” Durbin said.

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_DE