Feb 072008
Authors: Aaron Hedge

Student governments from colleges across Colorado teamed up at the capital Thursday to lobby state lawmakers to pass legislation to inject transparency into the textbook industry, which some student activists call a “broken market.”

The bill passed the Senate committee after the rally and is now the Senate House.

The session, led by Blake Gibson, chair of the Associated Students of Colorado, filled the room to the point of overflow.

The state’s Senate Chambers heard the voice of students, including Gibson, who showed up borrowed suits to tell lawmakers students are being “bankrupted” by the publishing industry.

Drafted by Gibson, the measure follows similar legislation that has been implemented in other states like Washington.

The bill would address three issues with the textbook industry that Gibson says have driven the price of textbooks up at four times the rate of inflation for the last two decades.

First, reports by student organizations show that textbook publishers rarely disclose price to teachers voluntarily when they are ordering their textbooks.

And only 38 percent of teachers polled in a report by a Massachusetts student organization said publishers always told them the price of a work when asked.

Second, when teachers order course material, a large amount of it is bundled — many books come with supplemental materials, like instructional CDs and additional texts that may not be required for the course. The supplemental material adds to the price, Gibson said.

Third, he said, subsequent editions of textbooks often have minimal amounts of new information that its preceding text didn’t have.

“We don’t need new diagrams of things we already know exist,” Gibson said. “Gravity hasn’t changed in a while, so maybe we don’t need the new version.”

The legislation — that Gibson said the federal government is modeling its own bill after — would require publishers to disclose prices with teachers in the initial sales discussion, offer unbundling options and let teachers know in detail how new editions are different.

The three-member group of lawmakers who hosted the event and will sponsor the legislation in this summer’s legislative session said the bill has a good chance of passing and could go into effect as early as spring 2009.

Gibson said the lack of transparency in the textbook industry is one of the biggest issues facing education, as the average student pays between $700 and $1,000 every year for textbooks. This accounts for about one-third of the cost of a bachelor’s degree and two-thirds of an associate’s.

“This is not just an annoyance; it is a problem that is bankrupting our students,” he said.

State Democratic lawmakers Rep. John Kefalas, Rep. Randy Fischer and Sen. Ron Tupa asked students in the Senate Chambers how much they spend on textbooks, and dozens of them said they had at one point paid more than $300 on one book.

When Tupa went to college in the 1990s, he said, the average cost of a textbook didn’t exceed $50.

“I say to myself, ‘Has the price of ink and paper really gone up that much?'” Tupa said to laughter from the students. “I think this will go toward, I hope, saving you hundreds of dollars.”

Kefalas said he and other lawmakers would do everything to ensure the bill’s survival.

“We as legislators have listened, and we’re looking forward to working with you,” he said.

News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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