Illinois senator pushed to end college textbook costs

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Some students at this college hope the bill passes.

By Richard Montemayor

An Illinois senator last week announced proposed legislation for free college textbooks.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin hosted a phone press conference Oct. 7 with 20 college journalists to announce the Affordable College Textbook Act.

By introducing this bill, Durbin’s goal is to establish a grant program for the creation and use of free high-quality textbooks.

“Freer access to these open textbooks will save students hundreds of dollars and put pressure on traditional college textbook markets to open up and be affordable,” Durbin said.

The University of Illinois used a $150,000 federal grant to try an open textbook project, he said. The school created a textbook titled “Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation,” and the textbook was published electronically for free and open use, he said.

“Instead of students shelling about $150 for this introductory environmentally sustainable class textbook, they get the textbook free online,” he said.

Durbin said the textbook has been wildly popular and has been picked up by other colleges.

Some 60,000 students have access to this open textbook.

Sen. Al Franken also sponsors the proposed legislation.

“Since I’ve come into the Senate, college affordability has been a big focus of mine,” Franken said. “I’ve gone around the state of Minnesota, (and) we are fifth in the nation in terms of level of debt that we graduate with.”

In Minnesota each student commonly pays over $1,000 for textbooks each semester, Franken said.

Creating a course that uses free online materials offers more flexibility to students and professors, he said.

Franken said this is one of the ways to address college affordability.

At this college, some students and faculty are hoping the bill passes.

Business management freshman Alejandro Balderas, is enrolled in five classes and spent $300 on textbooks.

“I could save money and spend it on gas to get to school or food or tutoring sessions after school,” Balderas said.

Architecture freshman Ilmar Gonzales bought his books on to save money.

“I think it would be better than trying to find the money to buy textbooks,” Gonzales said.

Radiation therapy sophomore Rick Mata thinks open-source textbooks are an good idea.

“It’s a major expense,” Mata said. “Like these science classes, they could be over $300 for just the book.”

Melvin Johnson, manager of this college’s bookstore, operated by Follett Higher Education Group, is skeptical the bill will pass.

Johnson said he would not comment on how the bill would affect business at the bookstore because the bill has not passed yet.

President Robert Vela said one of the board’s goals is to find ways to reduce textbook costs.

“A lot of complaints and struggles that we are getting from students is that at some times the textbooks are more expensive than the actual tuition and fees,” Vela said.

Vela said the board and chancellor want them to look at ways to incorporate open education resources.

“We did an internal study and right now we have about 140 sections at SAC using OER, which means there is no cost to students,” Vela said.

That saved students about $12,300 this semester, he said.

Durbin said that he wants students to speak up on this issue and ask their congressional representatives to support the bill.

The Ranger also contacted Durbin’s press office for more information on funding the bill, but his office has not returned phone calls in time for print.


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