States And Colleges Trying To Lower Textbook Fees

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 2, 2009

Some states and colleges are taking action to bring down the soaring cost of college textbooks.

Measures passed by the Florida Legislature last year took effect yesterday which call upon professors to post a list of textbooks at least 30 days before each course begins, allowing students more time to shop and compare prices.

"The best thing is it has the potential of saving students hundreds of dollars each year," said Arthur Guilford, the regional chancellor at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, who was quoted in the Bradenton Herald. "It gives our bookstores the opportunity to know if a student wants to turn in their books, which can be used again. Bookstores can re-sell a book to the next term student."

Guilford noted that the new measures could save students as much as 35 percent of what their book costs were. "We're trying to help the students every way we can," he said, "because textbooks are quite expensive now."

That feeling is being echoed across the country. Alabama's Dothan Eagle notes that textbook prices increased by 186 percent between 1986 and 2004--the result of multiple re-editions and the inclusion of one-time use workbooks which force students to purchase new texts. Publishers earn 67 percent of a book's sale, while campus bookstores keep only about 12 percent.

In Alabama, Troy University is battling rising textbook fees by pushing an aggressive book buy-back program at its campus bookstores, while textbook selection committees are standardizing texts for certain courses. For example, text selections are being narrowed down to one or two books for professors to choose, rather than allowing instructors to select their own texts.

Some institutions are even negotiating directly with publishers. The Chi Town Daily News reports that a group of professors at the City Colleges of Chicago is haggling with the publisher of MyMathLab to bring down the popular electronic math textbook's price. Keith McCoy, a math professor at Wright College, explained that the software gives interactive step-by-step instructions along with video and audio clips. Yet students must pay $70 per semester to access the program--adding up to $2 million in electronic textbook fees in just one year.

McCoy is hoping to persuade the publisher to drop the price to $40. "What we want to do for the fall semester is to investigate all the various learning technologies that we use, come up with a pro-con list, and then go back to the publishers and try to make some deals," he explained.

Meanwhile, the University of California-Berkeley is planning to release a report by the end of the summer for options and recommendations to cut down on textbook costs, much like the Board of Regents at the University System of Maryland did earlier this year.

"Really what it comes down to," said Dennis Lieu, who co-chairs the Berkeley committee, "is being able to offer options."

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