College students may soon find some relief from exorbitant textbook prices, pending a decision by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding two recently drafted bills.
Gov. Schwarzenegger currently has until Oct. 12 to sign Senate Bill 832 or Assembly Bill 1548. The two bills offer faculty members more information regarding textbook content and pricing information, but vary in their specific requirements to schools and publishers. While the bills would not directly cause the price of books to decrease, each would enable professors to choose more inexpensive materials.
Last Thursday, the California Student Public Interest Research Group held several press conferences on college campuses, including UCSB, in favor of SB 832. Tessa Atkinson-Adams, the project coordinator for the textbook campaign, said CalPIRG has lobbied in support of making textbooks more affordable for about four years and serves as the main sponsor of SB 832. She said similar legislation has passed in Connecticut and Washington due to work by the PIRGs in those states.
“We’re just waiting to see what the governor does,” Atkinson-Adams, a third-year political science and environmental studies major, said. “His office was leaning against it, [but] we are hoping we will be able to sway him toward voting ‘yes.'”
Known as the College Textbook Affordability Bill and written by State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), the legislation aims to help lower costs by forcing textbook publishers to divulge the wholesale and resale prices of textbooks and an explanation of the changes to the new editions as well as the expected amount of time the book will remain current.
According to Garo Manjikian, UCSB campus organizer for CalPIRG, textbooks are often saddled with unnecessary additions such as CD-ROMs and workbooks that can increase the cost by about 40 percent. Furthermore, professors are not always made aware of less expensive alternatives, he said.
“Publishers don’t always disclose different options,” Manjikian said. “They are somewhat deceiving the professors and tricking them into getting more expensive books.”
In an e-mail, mathematics professor Martin Scharlemann said he and his department have offered students various ways to save money on textbooks, such as posting problems online and providing the option of purchasing any edition; however, only laws could compel other professors into making the effort to assist students.
“I think the CalPIRG report gets the problem right, that there is a serious market failure,” Scharlemann said. “Textbooks are chosen by faculty who are only vaguely interested in the price to students. Legislation is needed to fix that failure.”
Meanwhile, another bill regarding textbooks is also on the governor’s desk. AB 1548[, written mainly by Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) and called the College Textbook Transparency Act, requires publishers to print a list of the differences in the new editions after 2010. Additionally, university bookstores would have to release the textbook wholesale price.
However, Manjikian said the College Textbook Transparency Act does not go far enough as it only discloses pricing information to professors following individual requests and moreover, does not go into effect until 2010. SB 832 would require price lists online and would go into effect immediately if signed into law.
“It’s not a great bill,” Manjikian said. “If the governor is serious about saving students money, he should sign 832.”