If you’re worried about the high cost of textbooks, you’re not alone. Many college students – whether taking online or traditional courses – have the same concern. A new bill called the Affordable College Textbook Act could provide some relief, if Congress passes it. How could this bill affect you – and what can you do to make textbooks more affordable in the meantime?

The Cost of Books, Online and Off

Online education proves that you can learn without a physical classroom, but you can’t learn without some form of course materials to draw from. In an online college course, some of your course materials might be accessible for free as part of your course. However, you may still have to purchase either a physical textbook or an e-book that you can read on a computer or tablet – and that can be expensive.

College students spend an average of $1,200 per year on textbooks, according to the United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG). When that $1,200 is on top of the thousands of dollars students already spend per year on tuition and fees it can really break the bank. Some students have to take our more loans to afford the extra expense, which translates to spending even more money paying interest on the loan years later.

The problem, it seems, is only getting worse. Over just 10 years, the cost of books has jumped 82 percent, according to United States Senator Dick Durbin, one of the congressmen who introduced the bill. The unnecessary publication of expensive new editions every few years and the practice of “bundling” course materials plays a role in driving up the cost, USPIRG reported.

The Affordable College Textbook Act

The Affordable College Textbook Act bill was introduced to Congress in October 2015 as a way of relieving this burden. If passed, the bill could allow colleges and universities to be awarded grants to make textbooks available free online for their students, NBC News reported.

Already, some schools – particularly in states like California, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Washington – are trying out a similar idea without the help of the federal government. Open textbooks, course materials available for free as audio or electronic files – are gaining popularity among schools in these areas.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee the Affordable College Textbook Act will become a law. Earlier versions of the bill have failed to do so. Even if the bill is signed into law, it won’t take effect right away. In the meantime – or if the bill never becomes a law – students can take steps to minimize the cost of textbooks. If open textbooks are important to you, research the schools you are considering to see if any provide course materials for free. If you do have to purchase textbooks, shop around for the best deal. Compare the cost of used books and new books. Consider e-books instead of print editions, and search for options to rent instead of buy.