Al Franken Pushing to Make College Textbooks Free

Minnesota senator co-sponsoring bill that would give access to online resources
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2015 2:23 PM CDT
Al Franken Pushing to Make College Textbooks Free
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., accompanied by his wife Franni Bryson, speaks with reporters outside his Minneapolis home on Nov. 5, 2014, after winning a second term.   (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Carlos Gonzalez)

Al Franken knows how ridiculous the cost of college textbooks can be, and he want to do something about it. That's why the Minnesota senator and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, a bill that would give grants to higher-ed institutions so they can create textbooks accessible for free online—which would, in turn, ostensibly push the costs of textbooks down, the Chicago Maroon reports. "The traditional publishing market is not providing students the materials they need at a cost they can afford," said Durbin, who introduced a similar bill in 2013 that never went anywhere. These "open textbooks" would be available for professors, students, and pretty much anyone who wanted to use and distribute them, City Pages reports.

Franken noted the cost of textbooks has risen 82% (three times the inflation rate, per US PIRG) over the past 10 years and that a student coughs up an average $1,200 for books and supplies each year, Northern Public Radio notes. And, per a 2014 US PIRG report, 65% of students say they've opted not to buy a text because it was too much money; nearly half the respondents said textbook cost impacted how many and which classes they registered for. "Students would say, 'I have to pay $150 for this paperback book,' and the professor of the course—who was in the room—said, '$150?!' She didn't [even] know," Franken says, per Northern Public Radio. "Isn't that amazing?" A higher-ed advocate for US PIRG tells City Pages that "for students and families that are already struggling to afford a college education, it's not just an expensive textbook anymore. It's a serious barrier." Durbin expects opposition from at least one group, per the Maroon: textbook manufacturers. (The University of Maryland has already swapped out its books for online resources.)

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