The beginning of the quarter textbook rush is just about over, but California Student Public Interests Research Group and Congressman David Wu have not stopped their investigations into high textbook prices, and how to lower them.
The textbook price question has been on the CalPIRG agenda for about six years, said Tessa Atkinson-Adams, project coordinator for CalPIRG’s textbook campaign. She said current projects include drafting state legislation that would require publishing companies to disclose price information on their books, educating professors on what they can do to keep prices low for their students, and increasing the used book market at UCSB.
According to a press release from his office, Wu, D-Ore., a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, ordered the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the continually rising cost of textbooks. The study will be finished in summer 2007.
The order follows a Government Accountability Office study, which reported that college textbook prices are increasing and have become more of a financial burden for students. According to the press release, the cost of textbooks at a four-year public institution is 26 percent of students’ college tuition and fees.
Hana Abdo, a third-year business economics major, said she has felt the financial strain imposed by expensive textbooks.
“The higher textbook prices get, the more debt students are going to be in,” Abdo said. “It’s not economically fair for students who are struggling to pay for college.”
Atkinson-Adams said UCSB students pay more for their textbooks per year than other schools in the UC system. She said a survey done by CalPIRG reports that UCSB students pay an average of $978 per year while schools like UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley pay in the $700 to $800 range.
According to the 2003 survey, “Ripoff 101: How the Current Practices of the Textbook Industry Drive up the Cost of College Textbooks,” UC students will spend an average of $898 on textbooks during three quarters of school.
“I spent $157 on one book for an upper division economics class,” Abdo said. “Not only is it overpriced, when you sell it back you don’t get nearly the same value.”
Atkinson-Adams said CalPIRG introduced model legislation in January that included a disclosure act requiring textbook publishing companies to release all information and options to professors and faculty, such as options for textbooks in black and white and paperback editions.
“We’re looking to find some legislators to champion our model legislation and bring it to the House,” Atkinson-Adams said.
She said the legislation included a clause about bundling textbooks with CDs and workbooks. Bundling materials raises the price of textbooks and included supplies by 57 percent, Atkinson-Adams said.
“Students rarely use these workbooks or CDs and you can’t sell them back, which makes used books obsolete,” said Garo Manjikian, UCSB campus organizer for CalPIRG.
Atkinson-Adams said professors have some power in keeping book prices low. Two years ago, she said, the UCLA mathematics dept. negotiated a 20 percent discount on a calculus book with a textbook publishing company.
In addition to negotiation options between professors and publishing companies, Atkinson-Adams said educating professors on the issue is an important part of CalPIRG’s work.
“We’re also looking at online textbooks and informing professors about online textbooks because they’re considerably cheaper,” Atkinson-Adams said. “We want to educate professors on their power.”
The CalPIRG Affordable Textbooks campaign is also seeking ways to increase the used book market, such as educating students about their options, including used book websites.
In addition, Atkinson-Adams said CalPIRG is developing an online service that students could use to transfer books among each other.
CalPIRG issued a report last August titled “Textbooks for the 21st Century: A Guide to Free and Low Cost Textbooks” that offers students alternative suggestions to expensive textbooks such as online versions.
Manjikian said that every year about 30,000 UC students pledge money to the student-directed and student-funded group, CalPIRG.
“Really, our campaign wants textbook publishers to adopt fair practices,” Manjikian said.