The sound of anguish coming from college students across the country over the next several weeks may not be due to the agony of upcoming final examinations.
It may be over the misery they experience whenever they discover how little they are getting for their used textbooks, compared to how much they paid for them at the beginning of the semester.
A report by the Office of the Vice President for Student Services and the Student Government Association at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville confirms what students have been complaining about over the past two decades---textbook price increases across the nation have far outpaced standard inflationary increases, resulting in a rising and unrelenting financial burden on college students and their families.
And at a time when food costs are up and gasoline prices are at an all time high, some students are questioning the necessity of purchasing a textbook and are willing to gamble on whether or not they’ll be able to pass a course without the traditional resource that is considered such a vital part of the education process.
The findings are based on a survey of students and faculty from the component universities in the Texas State University System, of which Sam Houston State is a member, including Angelo State University (now part of the Texas Tech System), Lamar University, Lamar Institute of Technology, Lamar State College-Port Arthur, Lamar State College-Orange, Texas State University-San Marcos.
More than 5,000 students and 800 faculty members responded to the survey, which covered such areas as the necessity of multimedia packets for a course, the availability of required texts, and whether books were even used in a class for which a purchase had been required.
“We compiled this report at the request of the Texas State University System to address the concerns we have been hearing from students,” said Frank Parker, SHSU’s vice president for student services.
“From our research, we determined that there is no one decisive solution for the problem; however, we are encouraged that several solutions are available to help reduce the cost of textbooks, and through the report we’ve offered recommendations for action,” Parker said.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we hope this report will start an intelligent discussion to get something done on behalf of the students regarding all the elements of getting an education,” Parker said.
The survey indicates that more than half of the students responding were not able to afford required texts on one or more occasions, and as many as 88 percent of students have experienced an occasion where they were not assigned work from a required textbook.
Faculty responses indicate 73 percent are not aware of the cost to students of the textbooks they assign, and the same number say that the multimedia packets that accompany many textbooks are not necessary for their course. Eighty-nine percent said they would be willing to take measures to reduce costs to students such as submitting their textbook orders earlier than current deadline.
Bookstores say that the best way to reduce the cost of textbooks is to utilize textbooks more than one semester and maximize the number of used books available for sale per course. This step would require faculty members to identify required texts for the next term before students begin to sell back their books at the end of current semester.
“We are not trying to tell a faculty member what to teach or how they should prepare their lectures,” Parker said. “But when a used book can cost one-third to one-half the price of a new book, this becomes a significant source for cost reduction.”
The report also suggests that faculty members to use caution when requiring a textbook from a publisher who arbitrarily includes additional resources with the book.
“Bundling books and other materials in cellophane is a practice the publishers use to outsmart the used textbook market by creating new products that can never be ‘used’," Parker said. “We, and many others, recommended faculty avoid these bundled products or ask or require publishers to make the individual pieces available in bookstores.”
State legislatures are beginning to look at the way the cost of books has skyrocketed, but action has been slow in coming. More than 146 legislative bills have been introduced in 34 individual state legislative branches regarding textbook costs since 2005, yet fewer than 4 percent of those bills have been passed.
In the Texas legislature, 13 unique bills concerning textbook costs were introduced over the course of the 79th Regular and Called sessions (2005) and the 80th Regular session (2007). Of those bills, most did not make it out of committee by the time the legislature adjourned.
“The students haven’t shouted loud enough,” Parker said “and there hasn’t been a coordinated effort by stakeholders who are students, faculty, parents, legislators, universities and their governing boards and the textbook industry, including publishers and bookstores.”
The report suggests that one of the most immediate and comprehensive things the legislature could do to help would be to pass legislation that would allow tax exemption on textbooks purchased by all students enrolled at Texas colleges and universities.
“This would represent an average savings of 6 to 8 percent on the total cost of each student’s college textbook purchases,” said Parker.
For the Texas State University System, the report recommends an online student textbook swap maintained free of charge by each component; textbook adoption policies and guaranteed buy-back programs so that books can be used over a recommended number of semesters instead of just one semester; textbook education for faculty, students and parents; and alternatives to printed textbooks such as e-books and electronic materials.
“We are smart enough as educational institutions to make purchasing textbooks more cost efficient for our students,” Parker said. “Having resources for a class is a vital part of the education process. It shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting a degree.”
The entire report is available at http://www.shsu.edu/~slo_stdss/forms.html under SHSU Textbook Cost Report.
- END -
This page maintained by SHSU's Communications Office
Director: Bruce Erickson
Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
Located in the 115 Administration Building
Telephone: 936.294.1836; Fax: 936.294.1834
Please send comments, corrections, news tips to Today@Sam.edu.
Brian Domitrovic, assistant professor of history, appeared on Book TV (C-SPAN) May 1-2, speaking about his recent book "Econoclasts: The Rebels Sparked the Supply Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity" (www.econoclasts.net).
Houston Chronicle education writer Jeannie Kever recently turned to Regents Professor of English Paul Ruffin for his views on university presses moving toward "digital books" as opposed to traditional ink-on-paper."We're fulfilling the ancient role of the university press, and that is to produce books," said Paul Ruffin, the Texas poet laureate for 2009 and director of the Texas Review Press at Sam Houston State University. "I don't want to give up the book because it is an art."
Monday, May 3
Tuesday, May 4
"The measure of a Life is its Service."