Concern about the cost of textbooks has continued to drive state legislative initiatives across the United States. Recurring themes in legislation include establishing textbook rental programs at state institutions, pricing and revision disclosures, restricting publisher marketing, encouraging timely textbook adoption guidelines, and implementing tax relief measures. In Minnesota, legislation recently introduced had significant input from the Minnesota State University Student Association. The bill, S.F. 1314, places specific requirements on faculty and institutions to control costs by considering the affordability of textbooks and supplemental materials in the selection process, as well as regulating the mix of bundled and unbundled instructional materials. The most updated legislative summaries on textbook legislation are on the National Association of College Stores Web site, www.nacs.org/news/030207-bills.asp?id=cm.
In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recently introduced College Textbook Affordability Act, designed to ensure that college textbooks and supplemental materials are more available and affordable for college students. This bill would help students manage costs by requiring publishers and colleges receiving federal assistance to print the price of textbooks and supplemental materials in the course schedule so students could take that into account when selecting classes. The proposed legislation is similar to active bills in several states, requiring publishers to include the price of textbooks and supplemental materials when providing information to faculty as well as the history of revisions and whether the textbook and supplemental materials are available in a potentially lower-priced alternative format. It also requires publishers that bundle course materials to offer the textbooks and supplemental materials in unbundled versions; requires colleges receiving federal assistance to include the ISBN and retail price of textbooks and supplemental materials in the course schedule; and requires schools, when asked, to provide bookstores with access to the course schedule, ISBN numbers of course material, and the maximum and current course enrollment numbers.
The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Higher Education, Competitiveness, and Lifelong Learning has begun a series of hearings to review reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The goal is to have a bill drafted by July and to have it pass the House just after the August recess. The act has not been reauthorized since 1998 despite attempts over the past three years. The first hearing, which occurred in mid-March, focused on student access and affordability; subsequent hearings have been held on related topics.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee also is working on reauthorization, but was unable to move it through the full Senate before the Spring Recess. Title IV provisions, which cover student aid and loan provisions, have hampered passage of the bill due to partisan differences over cutting lender subsidies to pay for enhanced need-based aid, encouraging colleges to shift into the government’s direct loan program, and the returning issue of college costs.
Spellings Summit on the Future of Higher Education
On March 22, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings held a summit to chart a road map for higher education reform. Some of the Department of Education’s plans reported at the meeting include:
- Aligning high school curriculum with college and workforce needs and requiring a more accurate accounting of high school graduation rates as part of No Child Left Behind reauthorization proposals.
- Enacting the president’s Pell and Academic Competitiveness Grant increases.
- Further simplifying the financial aid process.
- Increasing transparency by passing the president’s $25 million pilot program to help states collect and analyze college student data and measure results.
Other bills introduced this year include:
H.R. 1409: Fire Alarm Act
The bill would establish a pilot program within the Education Department to encourage student residence halls and universities to install fire alarms.
H.R. 1407: Higher Education Affordability and Equity Act
The bill would allow taxpayers making less than $100,000 to deduct the full amount of their student loan interest, expand the tax-exempt treatment of scholarships to make them tax-free, increase annual allowable contributions to Educational Savings Accounts from $2,000 to $5,000, expand the coverage of the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit to include the cost of books and equipment, and make current college savings tax benefits permanent.
H.R. 1394: Teacher Loan Forgiveness Expansion Act
The bill would expand the teacher loan forgiveness program authorized under the Higher Education Act to include speech pathologists.
H.R. 1556: Student Loan Tax Relief
The bill would end the marriage penalty on the deduction for interest on student loans.
H.R. 1522: Online Financial Aid Information Act
The bill would promote the availability and use of the federal student financial aid Web site of the Education Department.
H.R. 1467: 10,000 Trained by 2010 Act
The bill would authorize the National Science Foundation to award grants to higher education institutions to develop and offer education and training programs. It would allocate $3.5 million for 2008 fiscal year grants and increase the amount by $100,000 each year through 2011.
H.R. 990: Pell Grant Equity Act
The bill would increase Pell Grant scholarships by an average of $108 for approximately 96,000 students beginning in the 2007–08 academic year. It would also make more low-income students eligible for the program by eliminating the “tuition sensitivity” provision, which restricts awards for students attending low-cost provisions.
The House passed the bill Feb. 27 by a voice vote.
S. 899: Maximum Pell Grant
The bill would amend section 401(b)(2) of the Higher Education Act regarding the Federal Pell Grant maximum amount. The maximum Pell Grant is currently funded at $4,130. Under the proposed bill, this amount would increase incrementally each year up to $11,600 for the 2011–12 academic year. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) bill’s is cosponsored by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Akaka (D-Hawaii), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
S. Res. 105: Campus Fire Safety Act
The bill would designate September 2007 as “Campus Fire Safety Month.”
S. 851: Higher Education Tax Credit Act
The bill would provide a higher education opportunity credit in place of existing education tax incentives.
S. 938: ACCESS Act
The Accessing College through Comprehensive Early Outreach and State Partnerships Act (ACCESS Act) would authorize $500 million in federal grant funding to spur states to provide more students with need-based financial aid. Sen. Jack Reed’s (D-R.I.) Free Application for Federal Student Aid Act would make it easier for more students to qualify for financial assistance and simplify the application process. FAFSA is a form that must be filled out for students to get federal financial assistance such as grants, loans, and work-study jobs. Co-sponsored by Senators Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
S. 939: FAFSA Act
The bill calls for the creation of a short, paper Free Application for Federal Student Aid (EZ-FAFSA) for low-income students, as well as a tailored Web-based application form to ensure that all students and their parents answer only the questions needed to determine financial aid eligibility in the state in which they reside. Students who do not have Web access will be able to use a free telefile system for filing by phone.