Monday, February 11, 2008

House Passes Legislation to Make Textbooks Affordable

I know this blog's been a bit quiet lately, but things are about to get much busier. We've had some great news on two fronts. First, Textbook Revolution, the sibling site to the Stingy Scholar, is about to get a significant makeover in the coming weeks. Our fellow open education advocate and coder-extraordinaire Joshua Gay has been hard at work for several months building a wiki-based version of the site that will let students, professors, and anyone else come in and add to our huge list of free books. They'll also be able to add reviews and tags. I think the result will be a much better site that really encourages professors to start adopting free textbooks en masse.

The second piece of news is even more exciting. I heard today from Nicole Allen, director of the Student PIRGs' campaign for affordable textbooks at, that the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a very important piece of legislation to help bring transparency to the textbook market. Nicole asked me to post the following guest blog here at Stingy to help spread the word. What follows are her words on why this bill is so big. Make sure to tell your Senators that they should include this legislation in the final bill!

Nicole says:

Everyone knows that textbook prices are out of control: the average student spends about $900 a year, and prices are only going up. Making textbooks affordable is an important part of making higher education affordable. That's why new legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives today will bring down the cost of textbooks for millions of students.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137) includes three critical provisions to help students deal with textbook prices. First, it requires publishers to tell faculty the price of textbooks when professors are choosing books for their classes. Publishers often withhold prices from professors, hoping that cost won't factor into their decisions - and students end up paying the price. If publishers put price on the table, professors can consider the cost to students when selecting textbooks.

Second, the bill makes publishers sell the parts of bundled textbooks separately. No more shrink wrapped packaging preventing you from just buying the textbook without the CDs, workbooks and online passcodes - or from buying a supplement without a whole new textbook! Eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles will ensure that students can buy what they need, not what they don't.

Third, the bill encourages colleges to give students course booklists the semester before the class starts so they can shop around and look for better deals. Students can usually track down lower prices and used textbooks online, but they need to know in advance which books to look for. Otherwise, they're locked into buying from the bookstore.

The House bill is a huge win for students. It helps ease the burden of textbook costs for students now, and it paves the way for more low-cost and open-access textbooks to enter the market. When the House meets with the Senate to combine their two education bills, the Senate should make sure to retain these critical textbook provisions to help students make college more affordable.