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The Daily Tar Heel

Instead of piling on textbooks and prices, U.S. Congress is considering legislation for online alternatives.

The Affordable College Textbook Act, originally proposed in 2013 and re-introduced this month, would establish a grant program to lease open textbooks to students. The plan intends to save students stress and thousands of dollars in the process.

During an open source conference call Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-I.L., and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-M.N., discussed the large financial burdens of buying textbooks. 

Based on statistics from the College Board, Durbin said the average student budget for textbooks and supplies in a single school year has reached $1,225. 

This has also been reflected by government studies, he said. 

"The Government accounting office found that the new textbook prices increased cost rose 82 percent between 2002 and 2012," he said.

Durbin said his state of Illinois has experimented with similar proposals already.

"The University of Illinois used a $150,000 grant of federal money to try an open textbook project that created a textbook entitled 'Sustainability: a Comprehensive Foundation,'" he said. "The textbook was published electronically for free and open use.”

He said almost 60,000 students have used the textbook. 

And this is a trend that other agencies are adopting. He said it is seen through projects like the open access course site Coursera and other universities.

He said because we live in an age of technology, our textbooks should adapt.

"We have to really understand that the traditional textbook market is changing," he said. "Let's make a change for the benefit of these students.”

Ethan Senack, a higher education advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said this textbook model could be a major benefit to students.

"Using the open textbooks available today we could save college students in America, more than one billion dollars in a year," he said on the conference call. "Second, there are restrictions on use and access, so open textbooks can be customized and adapted by professors and teachers."

In a press release, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, said the bill would help to make textbooks more accessible.

“When buying a textbook becomes a barrier to education, you know something has to be changed, and that’s exactly what we want to achieve with the Affordable College Textbook Act," he said in the press release.

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