June 24, 2019 | 72° F

Rutgers students join march to Congress that results in $5 million for affordable textbooks

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With a $5 million grant from Congress appropriators, students across the country and at Rutgers marched on Capitol Hill this Wednesday in support of open source textbooks that help offset the cost of traditional learning materials.

Purchasing textbooks for college can be a daunting task for students who struggle to keep up with the cost of their education. A group of students from U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) marched to Congress on Wednesday to fight for easier access to classroom materials — and they won.

U.S. PIRG is a grassroots organization that advocates for the public interest, according to its website. Students from the non-profit, including Rutgers students, have convinced Congress appropriators to commit $5 million dollars for a pilot grant program for open educational resources (OER). The bill makes a major investment in open textbooks, which unlike pricey textbooks, are published below a public license that make books freely accessible and downloadable to students and faculty. 

April Nicklaus, the chair of New Jersey’s branch of U.S. PIRG, said that OER will be modeled similarly to Rutgers Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) program that has already saved students $2 million since its implementation two years ago. The program encourages professors to move away from privately published texts and adopt these alternative books which take the financial burden off of students. 

“Honestly this seems like a no-brainer. Students are being taken advantage of, and we know that free, open textbooks can save them a lot of money quickly. We need to fight for (a) more affordable college on all fronts, but this is one area where we can take immediate action,” the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior said in a U.S. PIRG article. 

She, along with other students from around the country, have made hundreds of phone calls and sent letters to leaders in Congress in the past few months petitioning for an allotment of their 2018 budget bill. This week, they travelled to Capitol Hill and spoke directly with legislators to invest in the youth of the nation and allocate funds for a national OAT program, which could save college students $50 million on classroom material costs, according to a press release. 

“Students paying way too much for college textbooks were heard loud and clear today. Congressional leaders, especially Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who leads on education appropriations issues in the Senate, and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has championed this issue for many years, are reaching across the aisle to lower college costs for students,” said Kaitlyn Vitez, higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in the press release. 

With textbooks and access codes sometimes totalling to hundreds of dollars, students who cannot cough up the out-of-pocket expense, have no choice but to skip out on purchasing the required material for the class. 

Two-thirds of college students have skipped buying textbooks because of high out-of-pocket costs in addition to tuition, according to the U.S. PIRG article. This can lead to not doing assigned readings, not completing homework questions from the book and, in general, falling behind from their peers that purchased the book. 

Seven out of 10 students report that they do not purchase required textbooks due to high costs. Over the last three decades, the cost of textbooks has risen by more than 800 percent, with the average annual cost now exceeding more than $1,200 per student, as previously reported by The Daily Targum

On average, Rutgers students pay $1,500 per year on textbooks. This is 15 percent higher than the national average. 

The success of U.S. PIRG is a step toward cheaper textbooks, relief of financial stress and an overall better success rate in the classroom. 

“We need to get open textbooks into the hands of more students so that they can focus on getting that A, rather than worrying about how they’re going to pay for all these expensive books.With such success stories, why wouldn’t we want to replicate that nationwide?”, said Julia Seremba, a student from the UMass-Amherst PIRG chapter.

Erica D'Costa

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