A group charged with analyzing higher education released a report to Congress June 1 proposing solutions to halt the continual rise of textbook costs for college students.
The report, requested last year by congressmen Dave Wu (D-Oregon) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), was a follow-up to a Government Accountability Report that found textbook prices rose by six percent – more than twice the rate of inflation – between 1986 and 2004.
The new report, issued by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, confirmed these numbers, proving that textbooks are making it hard for many hopeful students to afford a college education.
At CSU, books and supplies alone average at about $900 per student, according to the Student Financial Services Web site.
“The study confirmed that textbook costs represent a barrier to access of higher education,” said Katie Gleeson, president of the Associated Students of CSU.
Blake Gibson, interim chairman for the Associated Students of Colorado and ASCSU senator for the College of Liberal Arts, said that textbooks have become a bigger piece of the average university price tag than most people realize and have become almost as big an issue as rising tuition rates.
“I think both [textbook costs and tuition] are big concerns,” he said, noting, “26 percent of the price tag at four-year universities comes from textbooks.”
The solutions proposed by the committee’s report are many, ranging from the implementation of rental programs for books, strengthening the current used book system, or even attempting to improve financial aid policies relating to the classroom materials.
However, the “big enchilada” for Dave Rosenfeld, program director for the Student Public Interest Research Group, a public advocacy group, is the idea of trading in textbooks for a “digital market-place” that hinges on the use of a combination of resources from traditional publishers, university professors and information from Creative Commons publications.
These resources, Rosenfeld said, can be just as legitimate as those from corporate publishers. The only difference, he says, is that Creative Commons sources are “founded on the idea that knowledge is a common good and (they) want as much to get out as possible,” as opposed to the others that function for profitability.
The result of this philosophy, he said, is that Creative Commons materials are free, and the others are not.
The “digital market” vision is to put these resources side by side with their copyrighted counterparts so professors can see all the resources available and use only what they think would best fit for a given class.
Ideally, Rosenfeld says, this would create an iTunes approach to building a textbook – a sort of free-range sharing of textbooks for professors to use.
Professors will be able to pick and choose from different publications to create a final conglomerate of the best of copyrighted and Creative Commons material – making the student pay only for what is used of the latter.
In addition, if the professor did not like what was already published, they too could contribute a chapter or two, at no additional cost to the pupil.
This solution, however, would require a significant infrastructure and communication between universities and publishing companies, and there is yet to be any evidence as to whether or not it would work.
“It’s anyone’s guess as to whether (it) would be successful,” Rosenfeld said.
At this point in time, however, CSU and its leadership seem to be taking a different route.
Blake Gibson, in particular, is seeking a different approach to alleviating textbook costs.
Referring to the “digital marketplace” idea, he said, “These solutions are not really something we are looking at.we are looking at our own that are a little more spot on.”
Programs adopted by other universities, such as Texas-base Rice University’s program that publishes some course material or sales tax exemptions as more plausible solutions, Gibson said.
Gleeson says that ASCSU is working to make sure that professors turn in book orders on time. This solution would ensure that materials being reused by the professors could be sold back to bookstores – resulting in money being put back into students’ pockets.
“(The) majority of professors don’t turn in orders on time, and this affects buy back,” she said.
However, she, like the others, says that something bigger needs to be done to help those having trouble affording higher education.
“There needs to be a comprehensive solution,” she said.
Staff writer Sean Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*$700-$1000 – national average of textbook costs
*$900 – average cost of books per student at CSU
*6 percent – rise in textbooks since 1986
*26 percent – of university costs come from textbooks