NJPIRG hopes to bring Affordable College Textbook Act to Rutgers
College textbooks have always been an unavoidable expense for college students, but if a new piece of legislation passes, the issue will be a thing of the past.
“The College Board recommends students budget $1,200 a year for textbooks and supplies — that’s almost 40 (percent) of tuition at a community college,” said Jordan Kizmann, vice chair and Textbook Campaign coordinator at the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, in an email.
A new bill has been proposed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), called the "Affordable College Textbook Act," which would create affordable textbook access to college students around the country.
The senators wrote the bill in accordance with members of NJPIRG and USPIRG, two public interest research groups, and it provides grants to state universities to incentivize the adoption of open source textbooks, according to Congress.gov. Open source textbooks are textbooks licensed under an open copyright license, and made available online for free to be used by students.
For universities to adopt open source books, administrations need to start a grant program that would give professors a monetary incentive to change their syllabi and use open resources as opposed to traditional textbooks, said Kizmann, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
If the bill passes, it would do just this, according to The Huffington Post. The bill would create a grant program for colleges and universities that would allow textbooks to be accessed online for free.
“The act aims to tackle the high prices of traditional publishers by encouraging the use of openly-licenses textbooks,” Kizmann said. “Open (licensed-textbooks) are faculty-written and peer-reviewed just like traditional textbooks, but published under a license that allows the public free access online or affordably in print.”
There are many students who think that open textbooks would be a great addition to Rutgers.
“I am so for open source textbooks. I feel most students already use (illegal PDFs), and it would save other students lots of financial aid money that’s used for book vouchers,” said Mary Margaret Mumich, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
The Open Source Textbook Initiative was a success thanks to a $150,000 grant at the University of Illinois, according to The Huffington Post. The staff developed a book that anyone can access for free and is updated when new information is available.
Chisa Egbelu, a School of Arts and Science senior, did not buy textbooks this semester.
“I think textbooks are a big part of why we started the organization,” said Egbelu, founder of the non-profit, higher-education crowdfunding platform PeduL.io. “We started the whole thing based on our own experiences, and I still have not purchased my own textbooks.
With PeduL.io, Egbelu wants to help lessen the burden of textbook prices, fees and term bill costs.
Open textbooks have the potential to save students at Rutgers—New Brunswick more than $4.7 million every year, Kizmann said.
“The (University) is a big business if focused on profit,” Egbelu said. “I try to read as much as I can online but it is sad that people limit or hinder their education because of the price of textbooks.”
While many students attempt to avoid buying textbooks, there are ways that students are almost forced to buy them. At Rutgers, for instance, if a student does not indicate online that they do not wish to participate in RU Book Advance, $500 will automatically be put aside as a book advance if the students' refund check is more than $500 a semester.
The Rutgers Book Advance can only be used at Rutgers-affiliated stores.
“I don’t feel it’s a bad thing because Rutgers-affiliated stores are convenient,” Mumich said. “But if people don’t realize it’s there, then it needs to be better advertised."
University Spokesman E.J. Miranda urged students to take advantage of the partnership that Rutgers has with Barnes & Noble College.
“Rutgers students can rent a growing number of textbooks and reduce the cost of a book 35 to 80 percent,” Miranda said in an email. “Students and faculty can also take advantage of B&N’s eTextbook software app and organization tool to select from an academic digital library and Barnes & Noble is working to increase the number of titles available in their digital catalog.”
The Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the cost of college textbooks increased 812 percent since 1978. Egbelu said students need to take initiative now.
“There are some, but unless there is an extreme majority, then I don’t think the administration would take notice," Egbelu said.
The bill would particularly help students who do not look for books outside of college-affiliated stores.
“Despite the growth of used book programs, rental markets and e-textbooks, student consumers are still captive to the high prices of the traditional market,” said Ethan Senack from the USPIRG Education Fund to The Huffington Post.
NJPIRG has been working with Rutgers in order to bring openly-licensed textbooks to the University, Kizmann said. Rutgers has agreed that open textbooks should be used on campus and should make it a priority to fund the program.
“A proposal was approved by the Rutgers University Senate in the Spring 2015 semester to begin a grant program for the implementation of open source materials,” Kizmann said. "NJPIRG is calling on President Barchi, faculty and administration at Rutgers to incorporate open textbooks to help decrease the price of higher education."
Miranda said Rutgers is currently tracking the pending legislation.
“Rutgers shares concerns about the rising cost of textbooks and is currently studying the development of an open source platform for textbooks,” he said in an email.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said the Affordable College Textbook Act mandates state universities to adopt open source textbooks.