Illinois Rep. introduces bill to reduce textbook costs

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) introduced legislation on Tuesday to make open-source textbooks available for free to college students as part of an effort to make higher education more affordable and accessible. 

“Skyrocketing textbook costs, along with the high costs of tuition, room and board, create a financial barrier that has become increasingly difficult for students to overcome,” Foster said in a news release. “By making high quality educational materials freely accessible to the general public, students would save money on textbooks.” 

The open source materials would be made available for free on a website, where they could be downloaded and shared by the public. 

The passage of the bill would launch a pilot program funded partially by federal agencies that contribute money to scientific education through the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency created by Congress to promote scientific advancement. The NSF would develop textbooks at a college level in calculus, physics and chemistry. The proposed legislation would also create the Federal Open Source Material Website, from which all original materials would come. 

The bill, titled the Learning Opportunities With Creation of Open Source Textbooks Act, comes at a time when college students are spending around $1,200 a year on books and supplies, according to College Board statistics from the 2013-14 academic year. 

Foster said the availability of free textbooks could reduce the amount of debt accumulated from four years of college by as much as $5,000. 

“The costs of textbooks has been growing faster than inflation,” Megan Jacobs, Foster’s communications director, told The Daily. “It’s gotten really out of hand. With costs going up across the board, that’s a really big area where we can make a difference.”

The LOW COST Act is part of a larger initiative launched by Foster called Project Growth. Aimed at job creation and economic development in his district, it focuses on the issues of education, transportation, manufacturing and strengthening the middle class, in order to encourage further growth.  

Foster said in the release the bill offers a “common sense solution” to offer students the most recent and accurate resources at the best prices. This easier accessibility to higher education will directly contribute to his goal of economic development, Foster said. 

“We can’t support job growth without a skilled workforce,” he said in the release.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a similar piece of legislation in November 2013 with the Affordable College Textbook Act, which also has the objective to make college more affordable by making open textbooks more readily available.

During Winter Quarter, Northwestern’s Associated Student Government voted in approval of adapting such a program here on our campus.

“Creating that competition where there’s a realistic alternative is huge,” said Isaac Rappoport, a senator for the Residential College Board. “We support this idea from Sen. Dick Durbin to create more open textbooks.”

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