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 student wallets.
The Associated Students of CSU (ASCSU) and the Associated Students of Colorado (ASC) began a letter-writing campaign this semester directed at state lawmakers pushing legislation requiring textbook to make textbook information transparent teachers and students.
CSU students have written and sent 227 over the letters to Sen. Steve Johnson, R. Fort Collins, over the past three weeks, said Dan Palmer, textbook efforts coordinator for ASCSU.
But Johnson said state lawmakers will be less concerned with textbook costs and focus on tuition.
“Frankly, I am a lot more concerned with the tuition increase the board of governors passed this summer, over 16.5 percent for residents,” he said in an email message to the Collegian.
Price of textbooks increased 40% over the past five years – twice the rate of inflation, according to a 90-page U.S. Department of education report.
Several factors contribute to high textbook costs.
Students don’t know what the costs are because publishers aren’t required to disclose that information, said Gibson.
But Bruce Hildebrand, executive director of the Higher Education department at the Association of American Publishers disagrees. He said that there is concern among publishers that the market is too transparent.
He points out that if one Googles International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), most numbers generate more than a million Web sites, which include information on book prices and content.
“How much transparency do you need?” he said. “(Publishers) have used the Internet to explode information to the public.”
Another problem is bundling /- 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. Teachers order books and students purchase them, making it a “broken market,” according to a 90-page U.S. Department of Education report.
Hildebrand said students assume that publishers are faulty for the high price bundling generates. But the blame actually lies with teachers, he said.
“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?'” The answer: “The faculty,” he said.
Adding to the equation – frequent new editions of books make them unnecessarily expensive, when subjects like math never change. It would be more efficient to use old editions of books, instead of republishing every one to three years, said Gibson.
Some states have already signed legislation that is aimed at making textbooks cheaper.
The State of Washington signed legislation in April nicknamed the “Textbook Transparency Act” that 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.
U.S Rep. Julia Carson (D Ill.) and other lawmakers proposed a bill to the House of Representatives that would require “disclosure of prices and bundling practices,” according to a press release from the House.
But Colorado students want more issues to be brought to the table at a state level, such as a rental system.
“Our proposal goes beyond that,” Gibson said of the national initiative.
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.
Hildebrand thinks that students can find competitive prices elsewhere.
“Students are wizards on the Internet and they are picky shoppers,” he said.
Senior reporter Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.