New Legislation Aims to Lower Textbook Costs

Posted: April 13, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine signed a bill last week that aims to lower the costs of textbooks for college students. The Textbook Market Reform Act, which goes into effect July 1, encourages public universities to come up with guidelines to lower the costs of textbooks.

According to Virginia21, a Virginia lobbying group for college students, nearly half of all Virginia students spend more than $800 a year on textbooks.

The new legislation requires faculty members to submit required textbook lists in a “timely manner;” requires the university to sell supplemental study material, such as CD-ROMs, apart from the respective textbook; and have sample copies of textbooks available for students in the university library.

The legislation also stipulates that revenue collected by the university on campus bookstores be used only for “on-campus student activities, financial aid or improvements to existing university infrastructure and services.” Finally, the legislation encourages faculty members to “limit their use of new edition textbooks.”

“I think [textbooks] are overpriced,” says Sultan Behery, an undergraduate majoring in computer science. He also believes required reading that includes the newest editions of textbooks is not justified for every class. “New textbooks are the same as old ones, but the questions are changed. For calculus or science books, it’s the same material as previous editions.”

Exchange student Alexandra Stainbank agrees with the bill’s aim, yet she believes the latest textbooks should be used.

“Textbooks are very expensive, considering the required reading,” says Stainbank, who is studying American culture. She says universities in her native England take a better approach to textbook sales. “From the point of view of an exchange student, it’s harder to buy textbooks here. It’s easier in England [because] you are given a lot more notice. You have the chance to go to outside providers like eBay.”

Jack Smith, the manager of the George Mason bookstore, believes the bill “will encourage faculty to consider the cost of books before they choose them. It will also mean more used books, and that’s what students want.We want to be able to provide them.”

Required textbooks for courses are listed as they are received from the faculty on the bookstore web site.

James Bennett, an economics professor, believes using older textbooks for courses is prudent. However, he takes issue with reusing textbooks for his courses for new academic years because the supply of used textbooks is not guaranteed.

“If the Commonwealth of Virginia guarantees there will be an adequate supply, I have no problem with [reusing textbooks]. However, there is no guarantee of supply,” says Bennett, who has been teaching at Mason for 31 years. Bennett says he sends his syllabus to students as early as he can so students can shop around and save money.

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