Newsroom

New Federal Law Will Curb Skyrocketing Textbook Costs

Regulations open doors to lower cost alternatives for students, faculty
For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON (July 21, 2010) — A groundbreaking federal law designed to tackle the rapidly rising cost of textbooks has kicked in just in time to impact college students this fall.  The law, which was part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) passed by Congress in 2008, is considered the first major federal action on this issue.

“Today, the average college student spends between $800 and $1,200 on textbooks every year,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin who authored the original version of the law.  “The Higher Education Act Reauthorization finally gave students access to the information and options they need to make educated decisions about managing their finances in school.  My Open College Textbook Act would go further by using the potential of technology to further improve college access, learning and affordability for all students.”

Earlier today, Durbin joined student and faculty representatives on a conference call to explain the new regulations and how they will impact textbook costs.  Overall, the consensus was that the law was a change for the better.

"This is a huge victory for students," said Rashi Mangalick, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and board chair of WISPIRG. "It will help us manage our costs now while also lowering prices in the long run."

The new law, which went into effect on July 1st, contains three main provisions:

1. Publishers must disclose textbook price and revision information to faculty during the marketing process.  A study by the Student PIRGs found that such details were often left out; 77% of the professors surveyed said publishers rarely or never offered textbook prices unasked. 

"Professors share students' concern about cost and generally would prefer to assign less expensive books," said Dr. D. Steven White, Professor of Marketing & International Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. "The new law empowers professors to readily identify lower-cost options that suit their instructional needs."

2. Publishers must offer unbundled versions of textbooks.  "Bundling," or the practice of packing textbooks with CDs, pass-codes and other ancillaries that often go unused, can increase costs 10-50% according to PIRG research.  From now on, students will have the option to purchase only the items they need. 

3. Colleges must include the list of assigned textbooks during course registration.  With advance notice, students can plan ahead for the full cost of their next term, and they have time to shop around for the best deals on their books.

"More cost saving options are available now than ever before.  Students can save hundreds by shopping for discounts online, renting, and trading used books with other students," said Nicole Allen, Textbooks Advocate for the Student PIRGs.  "The next step is to make sure textbooks are affordable in the first place."

Another theme that emerged was that open-source textbooks would play a prominent role in future efforts to reduce costs.  Open textbooks are digital books that, unlike conventional e-books, are licensed to be free online and affordable to purchase in print.  While currently available for a limited number of courses, budding efforts to create open textbooks - including publishing company Flat World Knowledge and Durbin's legislation - promise greater availability in coming years.

White is one of thousands of professors nationwide already exploring the use of open textbooks in college classrooms.  This fall, he estimates that switching to open textbooks will save his 98 students approximately $11,000.

"Affordable, high-quality alternatives like open textbooks could mean serious competition for traditional publishers," noted Dr. White. "Especially now that professors know how much books cost."

For more information on the law, visit www.studentpirgs.org/resources/textbook-price-disclosure-law.

For a recording of the conference call, click here.

About the Student PIRGs

The Student Public Interest Research Groups is a national network of non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that work on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform.

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