Congresswoman Suzan DelBene introduced bipartisan legislation today to help college students save money on textbooks by encouraging the use of low-cost or free digital course materials in higher education.
Called the E-BOOK Act (or Electronic Books Opening Opportunity for Knowledge), the bill will establish up to 10 pilot programs at public institutions throughout the country to increase access to digital course materials, expand the availability of e-readers and tablets for low-income students, and encourage professors to incorporate new learning technologies into their classes. Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) is also an original cosponsor of the bill.
"An often overlooked driver of the rising cost of college is textbooks and supplies. In addition to tackling tuition hikes and major increases in student loan debt, we must find solutions to the other factors pushing college further out of reach for working families," said DelBene. "Technology is changing the way we communicate and conduct commerce, and it can also transform the classroom experience. The E-BOOK Act will help spur innovation in our colleges and incentivize the adoption of new learning technologies, which will both improve instruction and save students money."
Students today are forced to spend more than $1,000 per year on college textbooks and course materials, which continue to become more costly each year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These high costs are in addition to the skyrocketing price tag for tuition, fees, and room and board that students and families must also cope with.
"Saving money on textbooks is crucial to students who are supporting themselves to get a better education," said Jared Trinka, Student Government President at Cascadia Community College. "The E-BOOK Act would allow us to spend money on other critical needs, like tuition bills, and alleviate some of the stress that comes with relying on our families--allowing us to become more independent. Many students are concerned with taking out loans for education, a large chunk of which goes toward purchasing textbooks. Lowering the burden of those payments makes the dream of building a better life through higher education possible."
New learning technologies provide an important opportunity to reduce the cost of college course materials. On average, digital textbooks are estimated to cost as much as 50% less than new print textbooks. A number of other low-cost non-textbook materials, including freely available open educational resources (OER), are also becoming more widely available for college faculty to use in their instruction.
Unfortunately, a number of challenges continue to impede the increased use of digital technologies on college campuses nationwide. Limited access to computers and other devices, like e-readers and tablets, remains a barrier for low-income students. Many college instructors also have yet to incorporate digital materials in their courses and still rely predominantly on physical textbooks.
"The University of Washington understands that college students require many forms of financial assistance to make their education affordable, from grants and loans to scholarships and work-study opportunities," said Betsy Wilson, Dean of University Libraries at the University of Washington. "However, one cost that is often overlooked is the price of textbooks and supplies, which has grown significantly over the last decade. By allowing students and faculty at universities like the UW to purchase, distribute, and access lower-cost or no-cost digital course materials, the E-BOOK Act offers a promising approach to easing the cost of a college education for many members of our student population."
The E-BOOK Act would authorize the Department of Education to award $20 million in grants to establish up to 10 pilot programs, which will each pursue new and innovative ways to implement the use of digital course materials in the classroom. By expanding access to 21st century learning tools, the bill will provide college faculty and administrators the opportunity to both improve learning outcomes and save their students hundreds of dollars on textbooks.
"As part of its land-grant heritage, Washington State University has always been committed to finding innovative strategies that reduce the financial barriers to obtaining a university education," said Jay Starratt, Dean of the Libraries for Washington State University. "Paying for college requires careful planning and entails coping with many different types of costs--which often includes purchasing hundreds of dollars' worth of textbooks every year. The E-BOOK Act is a step toward providing access and affordability through reducing the cost of course materials for students at WSU."