Monday, April 23, 2007

Legislating Textbooks

College Textbook Affordability Act of 2007. Apparently Congress thinks that they need to step in to somehow ease the rising cost of college textbooks.

  • Cost of Gasoline? No.
  • Cost of Health Care? No.
  • Costs of a Big Brother Federal Government? No.
  • Costs of college textbooks? Yes!!
Senator Richard J. Durbin (D, IL) has introduced legislation that is considered likely to be incorporated into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Apparently this bill is scheduled for committee action on May 2, 2007. "It is the intent of this Act to have all involved parties work together to identify ways to decrease the cost of college textbooks and supplemental materials for students while protecting the academic freedom of faculty members to provide high quality course materials for students." GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

The following are the main parts of the bill:
  • College Textbook Pricing Information- When a publisher provides a faculty member of an institution of higher education with information regarding a college textbook or supplemental material available in the subject area in which the faculty member teaches, the publisher shall include, with any such information and in writing, the following:
    • The price ... to the bookstore ... ,
    • Any history of revisions for the college textbook or supplemental material.
    • Whether the college textbook or supplemental material is available in any other format, including paperback and unbound, and the price ...
  • Unbundling of Supplemental Materials- A publisher that sells a college textbook and any supplemental material accompanying such college textbook as a single bundled item shall also sell the college textbook and each supplemental material as separate and unbundled items.
  • Internet Course Schedules- Each institution of higher education that receives Federal assistance and that publishes the institution's course schedule for the subsequent academic period on the Internet shall--
    • include, in the course schedule, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and the retail price for each college textbook or supplemental material required or recommended ...
    • update the information required ... as necessary.
There's one more provision related to making textbook info available to other publishers, apparently in an effort to make them more competitive with one another. I guess.

The first set of requirements related to publisher-to-faculty communications is absolutely worthless. Faculty already know that textbooks are expensive, so what is gained with this?

Unbundling of required materials? Jeez, we already have a hard time getting the students to buy the bundled materials so they usually end up with less than what they need to complete all course requirements. This unbundling will be unnecessarily confusing, and will create a communication nightmare between students and bookstores and faculty.

Keeping the ISBN info up-to-date on the web will be a logistical nightmare for many colleges. We tried to do it for our online courses each semester and it was a constant headache. The slightest typo causes huge problems. The sheer enormity of information causes personnel issues for managing the information. This is an unfunded mandate that will cost campuses a pretty penny.

Finally, for the record, I think textbook prices are obscene. I've thought that for 10-15 years. I would love to see reasonable prices for college textbooks, but this is NOT the way to do it. The proposed measures will not be very effective, they will be expensive to implement (thus increasing costs of bookstores and therefore textbooks), and WHY THE HECK DO WE NEED BIG BROTHER DECIDING THIS FOR US? DON'T YOU HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS TO DEAL WITH?

Photo under CC attribution by LollyKnit

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