In an effort to tackle the issue of high textbook prices, provisions in a new federal higher education bill up for vote in the U.S. House of Representatives aim to offer students and professors more information about textbook prices – a measure that recently failed to pass in a similar state bill.
According to a provision in H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 – which is a part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 – would require publishers selling books to universities nationwide to provide detailed information about textbooks to faculty members, including the prices for books in several formats and the changes between editions. If the U.S. House of Representatives passes the bill, it will go to the Senate for a vote.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced the bill, which in addition to the textbook pricing stipulations, would expand the duration of federal Pell Grants, create new scholarships for veterans and make other reforms to federal higher education aid, according to a House Committee on Education and Labor press release. The House Committee on Education and Labor approved the textbook legislation in H.R. 4137 on Nov. 15.
This bill includes language similar to California Senate Bill 832, known as the College Textbook Affordability Act, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed last month in favor of Assembly Bill 1548, an alternative textbook bill which becomes effective in 2010. AB 1548 only requires publishers make pricing information available to professors upon request, leading its critics to claim that it is not comprehensive.
The proposed House legislation also requires that publishers make normally bundled materials like CD-ROMS, which can dramatically increase the price of books, available separately. In addition, the bill requires universities provide the International Standard Book Numbers and prices of all books used in classes either online or in a printed catalog.
California’s Public Interest Research Group textbooks advocate Nicole Allen said since professors are responsible for textbook demand but do not consume the products themselves, the textbook market is unusual.
“This bill allows normal market forces to operate in a way that they currently don’t in the textbook market,” Allen said.
In addition, Allen said providing faculty with more information would allow them to select cheaper textbooks for their classes.
“Our research shows that 94 percent of professors would choose the cheaper of two equal textbooks,” Allen said.
Meanwhile, UCSB associate history professor Luke Roberts said textbook sales representatives never tell him the price of textbooks voluntarily, but he usually finds out through other means.
“When we order books, we have to give the bookstore the ISBN code, so we look up the books on Amazon,” Roberts said. “I’m certainly not against these measures.”
CalPIRG’s textbook campaign project coordinator Tessa Atkinson-Adams said the organization has gathered signatures of 400 professors in favor of SB 832, which CalPIRG had sponsored.
However, Atkinson-Adams, a third-year political science major, said she sees this federal bill as a second opportunity for textbook reform.
“We now have an opportunity to get a law similar to [our CA bill] passed in Congress,” Atkinson-Adams said.