Campaign Afoot Against Textbook Prices

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A rally in a Washington-area suburb last month officially launched the Textbook Rebellion, a campaign aimed at ensuring affordable textbooks for college students, and featured opening remarks from an Education Department official.

The Education Department initially sent out a press release saying that Hal Plotkin, an adviser to Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, would join the “launch of Textbook Rebellion cross-country tour.” The release was later recalled and replaced with softer language, saying that Plotkin would “help launch a campaign for affordable textbooks.”

XPlotkin helped build a department initiative to provide grants to colleges and college consortiums interested in developing resources and course materials for students. The grants require that anything developed using those grants be licensed to the public to "copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the copyrighted work."

In response to a survey of 1,905 undergraduates on 13 campuses conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven in 10 college students said they had skipped buying a textbook because of its cost.

A separate report by PIRG found that textbook costs are comparable to 26 percent of tuition at state universities, and 72 percent of tuition for community college students.

The Textbook Rebellion Tour, with its mascots “Mr. $200 Textbook” and “Textbook Rebel,” is organized by PIRG, Rock the Vote, and Flat World Knowledge. It kicked off on the campus of the University of Maryland on Aug. 31, and heads to some northeast colleges before heading out west and wrapping up at Evergreen State College on Oct. 7.

XThe campaign is based on three principles, according to a petition on the website:

-Textbooks should be affordable. Publishers should stop raising prices unfairly and offer a way to access each textbook for $30 or less per term without lowering quality.

-High-quality, affordable textbooks already exist in many subjects. Professors can reduce costs by considering these options.

-Open textbooks are an ideal solution, because they can be freely accessed, adapted and printed at a low cost. Decision-makers should prioritize support for open textbooks.