Making textbooks more affordable

An act in Congress aims to help students, faculty and publishers work together to decrease textbook costs.

In today’s world, the importance of a college education cannot be overstated. Not only does it foster personal growth and open doors for professional achievement, but educating the next generation is critical for our nation’s future in an increasingly competitive and crowded global marketplace. Yet, as we all know, the cost of college has increased significantly during recent years. I am concerned that the rising cost of higher education is forcing many potential students to opt out of a college education because it is simply not financially feasible.

As many students and their parents know, one of the somewhat overlooked, but still significant, contributors to college costs is course textbooks. With a son in college and a daughter on her way, I am no stranger to the impact this can have on the family budget. Over the past two decades, textbook prices have nearly tripled to an average of almost $900 per year. This comes on top of the $7,809 average cost of tuition and fees that Minnesota’s students are paying this year at our public four-year institutions. 

These additional costs place a further burden on the budgets of students and their families – and they are often unforeseen when calculating the real costs of college.

With this in mind, I introduced the College Textbook Affordability Act with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., last year. This bill aims to help students, faculty and publishers work together to decrease the cost of college textbooks for students while protecting the academic freedom of faculty to provide high-quality course materials for students. Specifically, the bill requires publishers to disclose the retail price and the history of revisions of the textbook to educators choosing the books, and seeks to ensure that students have complete information about course textbook requirements prior to the beginning of the upcoming term. This will ensure that students are able to make an informed choice about the true costs of their various courses before they begin. Our bill also requires that reading materials that are sold in a bundle are also sold separately, so that students’ money isn’t wasted on supplementary materials they don’t need and won’t use. Ultimately, these measures will provide students with more information and options, which will help drive down the costs of these materials. I am pleased to report the House of Representatives recently passed our legislation as part of the broader Higher Education Reauthorization bill. 

As a parent and a lawmaker, it has been my goal to ensure that all Americans have access to a quality education, regardless of financial status. As this legislation moves forward, I will continue to do all I can to help lessen the burden of rising college costs on Minnesota students and their families – whether it on a smaller scale with textbook costs or on a larger scale through efforts such as increasing Pell Grants. As is the case with any issue, I invite students to contact me with any concerns or suggestions as we work to make higher education more affordable.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman represents Minnesota. Please send comments to [email protected]