Committee Offers Plan for Making College Textbooks Affordable
For college students buckling under the pressure of rising textbook prices, a digital solution may soon be on the way. A report released today by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance suggests a number of short- and long-term solutions, including the creation of a national digital marketplace for textbooks, whose costs can be comparable to 20 percent of what's spent on tuition and fees at a four-year public institution.
"What is needed is a collaborative effort to build a true 21st-century solutiona national, digital marketplacethat can meet the needs of all stakeholders, particularly students and families," said the committee. According to Dave Rosenfeld, national program director of the Student Public Interest Research Groups, the textbook market is heavily influenced by two factors not common to other businesses: lack of direct competition among publishers because each book is copyright-protected and the lack of a choice for students because they have to buy what the course requires. Rosenfeld says the committee offers "a smart package of solutions that over time can introduce real competition."
The chief suggestion of the committee's report is the creation of an Internet-based group of textbook resources for students, professors, and publishers as well. Essentially, a central website would offer a place to buy and sell books (physical and digital) at more affordable prices. But experts like Rosenfeld warn that confusion over new products like E-bookswhich in some cases may be more expensive than traditional books after buyback value is factored incould be potential loopholes in the system. Bruce Hildebrand, executive director of higher education for the Association of American Publishers (which represents some of the big textbook players like Thomson Learning and Pearson Education) says publishing companies already are working with schools to find affordable solutions.
In addition to the Internet marketplace, the report suggests boosting the market for used textbooks, ensuring that textbook lists and the books' identifying barcodes are posted online, creating local textbook lending libraries and rental programs, and improving financial aid available to students for textbook purchases through vouchers, credits, or loans. The report also focuses on ways Congress can help make these options happen through partnerships and incentives for states and colleges.
For students like Juan O'Connell, who is a member of the advisory committee, figuring out the textbook market is just another part of the college learning curve. When he was a freshman electrical engineering major at Georgia Tech, O'Connell bought the full course load of books recommended by his teachers that first semester, coming in at close to $900. "Second semester you try to buy only the books you really need or talk to students that have already taken the classes," says O'Connell, who graduated this spring. "If you're actually going to buy a book, you get a used one or check out Amazon and eBay to find the cheapest version of the book. Buying the international version of books is [often] cheaper than the one they make in the U.S."