Textbook Cost Legislation

A friend sent this link today about a proposed bill to regulate textbook costs for college students:

Lawmakers push for open online textbooks

I’m not sure the bill actually does have anything to do with open online textbooks. That seems more of an afterthought proposed as a possible solution by the author of the article rather than by the authors of the bill. Not that I’ve read the bill to know, but this is my impression.

It looks like what the legislation is trying to prevent is what was described to me in a meeting yesterday (or was it the day before?) as an “every student pays” plan. Basically, when you have technology bundled with a book, and the technology part is sold as an access code, every student has to buy the books new, and every student has to buy either from the campus bookstore or directly from the publisher. There can’t be any book sharing among friends and there can’t be any shopping around Amazon and EBay for cheaper deals. Every student has to pay for a new book every semester because the technology components will only work with those access codes, and the access codes will only be good for one semester.

My committee was told by a textbook company yesterday (or the day before) that if we have an “every student pays” plan, the company can cut us a deal to lower the costs to the student.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not sure they really are going to lower costs enough to offset the choices the students lose in an “every student pays” deal.

If it were up to me, I’d say bring on the free online books. I’m working on a free online book myself, and that seems to me to be the only option that clearly represents any real savings to the student.

On the other hand, the textbook companies are not the bad guys here. They are doing their jobs. They have products to sell, and they are attempting to sell them in the best ways they know how. They can also provide more sophisticated products than free online texts because they have budgets to work with.

They also aren’t the people calling the shots on college campuses. Long before I ever heard of an ebook or a bundled book or a free book, people around me were arguing about the ethics of the campus bookstore monopoly and what that meant in terms of costs to students. Colleges have fancy football stadiums to pay for. Something has to be the cash cow. And in times of steady cuts on state budgets, no one wants to see a loss of revenue from any venue on campus.

So the cost of textbooks has reached astronomical proportions. I think the figure I heard yesterday (or at least this one day this week) for my own campus is that on average students are spending 2/3s the cost of tuition on textbooks. By the time you add in lab fees and miscellaneous what-nots, the cost of going to school is probably double the cost of tuition…the price people think they are going to be paying.

Nobody likes that. Two-year colleges especially are supposed to represent democratic access to education. Open doors. Low costs. And to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson “a somewhat convenient drive from home.”

Bring on the free books, I say.

But I still want the cookie trays from the textbook companies. I still want to see the textbook companies sinking money into research and development of new and innovative products. I still want the vendor sponsors at academic conferences keeping the costs down for me.

There aren’t easy answers, and I don’t know that legislation against bundled textbooks is going to solve anything. The “every student pays” plan doesn’t sit well with me, but at the same time I recognize that we’re all going through some major changes right now, and that the textbook companies are experimenting with new business models for the sake of their own survival.

Still, it’s refreshing to see so much interest in cutting the cost to the student. Somebody needs to be working on that. Somebody needs to be working real hard on that.

Maybe even on some days and in some ways that somebody will be me. Or you. Maybe it will be you. It can’t hurt if it is me or you.

1 thought on “Textbook Cost Legislation”

  • Bring on the free online books, indeed! Let’s create our own books and put them online and let our students download them! We control our own content in the classroom; why should our books be any different? Students pay enough for tuition. Let’s give them a break on paper. My school has an online presence, and I post Powerpoint presentations and Word files and other things that augment the lessons I teach them. They don’t need a textbook. I do all the work, which is why I’m called “teacher.” There are plenty of online resources (by way of links) and other things they can make use of rather than carry around a heavy, overpriced book that is useless next semester. I’m working toward a textbook-free composition class. Screw the bookstore; let them sell t-shirts, which is all they have that’s worth anything anyway. Most composition textbooks are garbage.

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