Here's Biden's chance to protect students from predatory textbook billing



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Some colleges automatically charge students on their tuition bill for textbooks unless they opt out. This automatic billing process creates unnecessary hardships for students already struggling with soaring college costs.

I used to believe that this practice, otherwise known as “inclusive access,” did not adversely affect me. Then I was unexpectedly charged more than $300 per semester for online textbooks that I rarely used in my classes.

Textbook publishers, colleges and third-party booksellers promise that these programs will save students money. In reality, savings in these programs are difficult to evaluate, and it’s unclear if they save students money in any given case. What is clear is these programs impede students from using alternatives that might be more affordable or even free — notably, “open educational resources.”

In addition, contracts between colleges and third-party booksellers often include revenue-sharing provisions between the bookstore and the school — the school bills students for textbooks, pays the bookstore, and then receives a portion of that money back.  “Inclusive access” doesn’t really “include” the students’ best interests. 

The Biden administration has acknowledged this issue and promised to reform automatic textbook billing practices. A proposed regulation from the U.S. Department of Education would give students the right to opt in to textbook charges, instead of having to navigate a complicated opt-out process. Given my experience, this shift could potentially save me or other college students hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the course of college. 

As with any policy that threatens to reduce revenue, this proposed regulation has been met with fierce resistance from publishers and bookstores, who benefit from the status quo. Their argument hinges on the misleading idea that automatic billing helps most students. 

At this critical juncture, President Biden must stand firm. The choice is clear: He can side with the students or with the publishers.

By supporting the opt-in policy, Biden would not only fulfill a promise but also take a decisive stand against practices that burden students financially. This policy is not just about saving students money — it’s about restoring autonomy and respect to students who are navigating the high-pressure and high-cost environment of higher education.

The pushback from publishers is predictable, but it is not persuasive. Their business model depends on keeping students’ choices at a minimum by making automatic purchases of expensive textbooks the default. The claim that this model provides cost-savings is a smokescreen, designed to obscure the reality that cheaper, more flexible options exist and that students should have easier access to more OERs.

We students of America need Biden to champion our cause. This is an opportunity to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of young people who are the future of this country.

By endorsing the Department of Education’s proposed regulation, the president can help dismantle a system that preys on students’ need to purchase assigned class materials and instead promote a saner approach to educational resources. It’s time to stand up for the principles of consumer choice and affordability in education.

Savannah Lebedeker is a second-year political science student at Florida State University and serves as president of the Public Interest Research Group at FSU.



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