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February 28, 2005

Proposals Seek To Address
Rising Cost Of Textbooks

A committee of faculty, staff, and students next month will begin implementing an educational campaign they hope will reduce the cost of textbooks for UConn students.

A draft report prepared by the group proposes a list of ideas that the framers hope will begin to change the way textbooks are ordered, purchased, used, and resold, says Bill Simpson, president and general manager of the UConn Co-op. Simpson served on a statewide taskforce that made recommendations related to textbook prices to the state Board of Governors for Higher Education in January.

While many of the recommendations involve better communication between the Co-op, faculty, and students, the most far-reaching suggestions are those that ask faculty to seriously consider using textbooks for several years, rather than automatically ordering new editions which may not necessarily include much new material.

“We’re asking faculty to think, is an edition change worth it?” Simpson says. “If we know that a book will be used for more than one year and have enough lead time, we can go to the large used-book companies and buy everything they have in those titles.”

The ever-increasing cost of textbooks has created an outpouring of calls for reform, with legislators in a number of states floating a range of proposals to cap the costs, which can approach $500-$700 a semester for some students, according to a recent Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report. Simpson says the average is somewhat less at UConn.

But the solution must go beyond the efforts of higher education institutions, he says: “The real answer will have to involve publishers. We need them to come at this problem with a low-cost solution, to produce lower-priced textbooks.”

Unfortunately, Simpson says, 80 percent of all textbooks are produced by just three publishers, so the will to lower costs may not be there.

In the interim, Simpson says the committee wants to educate faculty about the cost of textbooks, beginning with their orientation upon being hired, and suggest several ways they can control those costs. The committee also says more attention has to be paid to educating students, to ensure they know used books are available, but for a limited time. They also must be reminded to sell the books back to the Co-op when classes have ended. Simpson says the Co-op pays 50 percent of a book’s initial cost during buy-back.

Simpson and other committee members will be available to visit school or college and departmental meetings to discuss the cost of textbooks and ways the University community can help control those costs. They also hope to make a presentation to the University Senate.

Other suggestions include:

  • Providing book buy-back alert notices via e-mail;
  • Building a textbook website for students that will give current buy-back prices; and offer a used-book exchange where students can sell books directly to other students;
  • Build a textbook website for faculty that will list prices, current editions, upcoming edition changes, and other information about textbooks;
  • Rather than buy textbooks that are “bundled” with other materials, faculty are advised to discuss the purchase with Co-op staff and, if students don’t need the extra materials, the Co-op will try to obtain the book used, and purchase the previously bundled material separately;
  • Faculty should make sure at least one copy of the textbook they require is available through a library reserve process or as a loan to students who cannot otherwise afford the book;
  • The Co-op and faculty may work with publishers and the Co-op to create custom-published textbooks, when only a portion of a text is needed. Many students complain they buy expensive books, and only a small portion is used during the semester. This idea could circumvent that problem.