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A Plan to Counteract Rising Textbook Costs

By Andrew Jensen, Executive Director, Utah Student Association

The impact of textbook expenses presents many difficulties for higher education officials as they attempt to promote access and affordability to an increasing number of college and university students. The costs of college textbooks have increased at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades, constituting a 6 percent annual increase. From the years 1986-2004, textbook prices nearly tripled. In 2003-04, textbook costs as a percentage of tuition and fees were 72 percent or $886 at 2-year public institutions and 26 percent or $898 at 4-year public institutions.

These prohibitive costs have led students, administrators, faculty, private companies, and others to pursue alternative methods to the current textbook market model. The Utah Student Association is hard at work developing a textbook initiative aimed at effectively reducing the price of textbooks in the short- and long-term.

The following is our preliminary plan to move toward textbook cost reductions:

  1. Convincing post-secondary institutions to adopt actual policies that promote equal-quality, cheaper textbooks over more expensive counterparts. 1. Ensuring that faculty strongly consider price when determining the textbooks they will use, including promoting unbundled textbooks. 2. Providing a section in faculty guidelines on advancing low-cost textbook options for students. 3. Promoting the institution of faculty committees to determine textbook selections for general education courses with the aim of assuring low-cost material and textbooks are used. 4. Identifying and providing incentives to faculty to order the low-cost option and requiring that faculty give explanations and are accountable when they do not. 2. Promoting less expensive textbook sources like book rental, e-book, used textbooks, etc., and offering library access for required books. 3. Convincing bookstores to use purchasing power to negotiate lower textbook and material prices from publishing companies. 4. Promoting more fully developed aftermarkets so students are able to buy textbooks at reduced costs. 1. Implementing specific buy-back programs in on-campus bookstores, e.g. 3-semester minimum on certain textbooks. 2. Encouraging professors to donate their own complimentary copies of textbooks from publishing companies to bookstores or online retailers. 3. Supporting efforts to institute state-wide textbook rental programs among all the campus bookstores in an attempt to recuperate profits that have gone to online sellers. 5. And perhaps most importantly, investing in online and open source projects: 1. Adopting a "generic" textbook for use in lower division courses. 1. The textbook and supplemental material would be constructed by Utah faculty in a given subject area with the intent of 1) producing a textbook that meets institutions' academic criteria; and 2) offering the textbook free online; or 3) selling a printed version to Utah students at minimal cost. This program has the potential to save Utah students over $3 million dollars annually on, for example, their MATH 1050 textbook. The material could be derived from various open sources. 2. Utilizing existing open source textbooks that meet academic standards. 3. Promoting equal-quality, open textbooks available online. 2. Encouraging all Utah colleges and universities to join OpenCourseWare Consortium (Utah's public institutions constitute 6 of the 22 schools nation-wide that belong) and fix associated problems. 1. Many institutions still require login information to view course material. 2. Some incorporate new textbook editions in their courses that are costly.

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