Mar 112008
Authors: Aaron Hedge

A bill drafted by CSU students passed in the state House Tuesday that would, in theory, significantly lower the cost of textbooks, which has skyrocketed at four times the rate of inflation for nearly two decades.

The bill, introduced to committee in January by Blake Gibson, president of the Associated Students of Colorado, a statewide coalition of student governments, would inject transparency into the textbook industry by requiring publishers to disclose what student governments say is critical information.

“It’s a really good day,” Gibson said. “It shows that legislators and the people are ready to start prioritizing higher education.”

The textbook industry has been heavily criticized by student organizations over the past few years for not disclosing prices and new edition information to teachers when they order books. Gibson told lawmakers in Denver that the issue is “bankrupting” students at a student forum at the state Capitol last month.

He, along with other members of student government from CSU and around the state spent most of last semester and all of this semester organizing letter-writing campaigns and lobbying state legislators to support the legislation.

The average student spends $800 to $1,000 a year on textbooks, which makes up about two-thirds of the cost of a bachelor’s degree and over half of an associate’s degree in Colorado.

If passed, the legislation will require publishers to volunteer price information in the initial sales conversation, which teachers polled in a Massachusetts study said rarely happens.

Gibson said this would force publishers to compete for clients.

It would also require publishers to disclose any new information in subsequent editions, and, finally, would make it so unbundling options are available. Bundling is the packaging of textbooks with supplemental material, like CDs and online passwords that drive up the cost of the book.

The bill will go back to Senate for House revision review before it lands on the desk of Gov. Bill Ritter. But some students say that, although the bill will hold publishers accountable, there are more steps that must be taken before the issue is resolved.

Dan Palmer, director of Academics for the Associated Students of CSU, said teachers often wait until the last minute to order their books, adding to the problem.

“I think (the bill) is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s really all of the battle, though.”

Trevor Trout, vice president of ASCSU, and Palmer said that on average, 50 percent of teachers don’t order textbooks on time, which causes higher prices because CSU competes with public institutions across the country for the best prices.

“It’s been a big problem because they order them from a national warehouse,” Palmer said.

In the past few years, other states have passed similar legislation, the first being Washington.

A similar measure also passed the U.S. House of Representatives in early February, and the House is working with the Senate to draft a final measure.

News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at

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