Omnibus bill reflects advocacy efforts by University leaders


PHOTO COURTESY OF Creative Commons

Student leaders have been lobbying officials all year to advocate for congressional appropriations to offset the cost of textbooks.

By Hayley Nagelberg, Columnist

In season six of the U.S. television series, “The Office,” Michael Scott, the manager of a fictitious paper sales company, is reminded of a 10 year old promise he made to a group of third graders — who he named “Scott’s Tots” — to one day pay their college tuitions. After an intense and awkward revelation that he would not be able to pay even a single college tuition, one student pulls him aside to express how disappointed he is by this reality. Scott, in a genuine attempt to express his desire to help, asks the student what he can do to help.

“How about this,” Scott said. “If you can find a way to pay for your college tuition, let me buy your books, OK?”

“They’re expensive,” the student said.

“Yeah, well, I owe you that at least, right?” Scott said.

“It’s about $1,000,” the student said, which is met by a large exhale from Scott.

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“Really? Wow,” Scott said. “That’s over $200 a year.”

The student clarifies that it is $1,000 each year, to Scott’s shock. He eventually tells the student he will write four checks, each dated a year apart, and that the student should call him each year before cashing the checks so that he can move around money.

While “The Office” is a comedy show, this script is not a joke. In reality, the cost of textbooks has reached soaring heights. The University’s undergraduate admissions tuition website cites the cost of books and supplies at $1,200 per year.

This is not unique to our University or to the world of television. Set aside the glaring reality of the academic cost of a college education — which should be addressed as well — and ask how it is possible that supplemental educational resources could cost so much.

This past November, an event was held on campus entitled “I-L-L Never Pay That Much For a Textbook.” The event was sponsored by the Illinois Student Government and proposed an alternative of open source textbooks, which would enable free access to textbooks published by University faculty with open copyright licenses.

In addition to this event highlighting the cost of textbooks, student leaders have been lobbying officials all year to advocate for congressional appropriations to offset the cost of textbooks. Some students went directly to Capitol Hill to speak, while others signed letters to congressional leaders or worked with their campus libraries to send such letters.

At the end of March, Congress introduced its 2018 omnibus budget bill. It included a $5 million program to achieve this goal.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is one of the main players working to implement this bill. The bill is working on exactly what our student leaders proposed in the fall — creating and investing in these open textbooks for student use.

While this effort took months of work, it shows the tangible change that can be implemented by devoted action toward a common cause. While we need to continue to work toward making higher education a fiscal reality for everyone, we can see the student-led success in addressing this challenge through such examples.

The cost of textbooks should not have to be a punchline in a comedy show.

It is crucial that we hold our University accountable for taking the steps necessary to see the distribution of open source textbooks, and continue striving to cut costs where possible in our college experiences.

Hayley is a junior in ACES.

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