Lower textbook costs

Sep 302007
Authors: Aaron Hedge

In light of skyrocketing textbook costs, Colorado student organizations are following suit in a nation-wide legislative effort to lighten the load textbooks impose on students’ wallets.

The Associated Students of CSU (ASCSU) and the Associated Students of Colorado (ASC) began a campaign this semester directed at state lawmakers pushing legislation requiring textbook publishers to make textbook information transparent to teachers and students.

Other state institutions will be writing letters this semester.

CSU students have written and sent 227 letters to Sen. Steve Johnson, (R-Fort Collins), over the past weeks, said Dan Palmer, textbook efforts coordinator for ASCSU.

The price of textbooks has increased 40 percent over the past five years, which is twice the rate of inflation, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.

And most students don’t know what the costs are because publishers aren’t required to disclose that information, said Gibson.

Bruce Hildebrand, executive director of the Higher Education department at the Association of American Publishers disagrees, said that there is concern among publishers that the market is too transparent.

He points out that huge amounts of textbook information is available online through International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs).

“How much transparency do you need?” he said. “(Publishers) have used the Internet to explode information to the public.”

Another problem is bundling, which is the inclusion of learning supplements like CDs and Internet ID cards with textbooks. Bundling increases costs of textbooks by adding material that may not be used in class onto the price.

Hildebrand said students assume that publishers are at fault for the high price bundling generates, but the blame actually lies with teachers.

“The faculty go through (curricula) and choose what works best for their instructional needs and their students,” Hildebrand said. “Nobody is asking the question ‘Who is choosing the textbooks?’ (and that answer is) the faculty,” he said.

Some states have already signed legislation that is aimed at making textbooks cheaper.

In Washington, government officials signed legislation in April nicknamed the “Textbook Transparency Act,” which requires publishers to make information about textbook publication available to campus communities.

“It required publishers that are affiliated with our universities to disclose price to professors and students,” said Bryce Gibson, student lobbyist for Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW).

But Chad Chitwood, press representative for the U.S. House of Representatives warned that at state levels, textbook transparency legislation could complicate the national problem.

“If you have 50 states doing 50 different things, it’s just going to exacerbate the problem,” he said.

But Hildebrand said that legislation wouldn’t do much to lower the price of textbooks and stressed the importance of professors’ responsibility.

“No bundle is created without a professor explicitly requesting it,” he said.

Senior reporter Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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