Last year, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill to help find ways to make textbooks more affordable for students. House Bill 4058 sits among the morass of 68 House bills and 44 Senate bills passed in the 2012 Oregon Legislature.
Last year, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill to help find ways to make textbooks more affordable for students.
House Bill 4058 sits among the morass of 68 House bills and 44 Senate bills passed in the 2012 Oregon Legislature.
It charged a workgroup with thinking of strategies to lower textbook costs, and they’ve since created a report that summarizes their findings. James Woods, a Portland State professor of economics, was part of the group. He’s anxious to see something good come from the work they did.
“Legislature asked me to build a stick, and now it’s really hard not to beat something with it,” Woods said.
PSU students may be particularly interested in a 2005 Oregon State Public Interest Research Group’s findings that textbook costs rose four times as fast as inflation, he said. Woods said members of the workgroup would like to see the bill
produce actual changes.
The workgroup’s report was submitted to the Legislature last month. Woods is happy with the report so far, but he would like to see it get more attention.
The report carried three main recommendations for lowering costs: ordering books on time, seeing schools partner with free open-source providers and encouraging faculty to reduce cost.
The Vanguard examined what is being done about these recommendations.
The first recommendation given by the report is for new policy to be created that requires books to be ordered on time. While it may seem like a simple task, according to Ken Brown, textbooks manager at the Portland State Bookstore, last fall more than 700 classes sent orders for their books two weeks before classes started, which can cause the price to rise by 30 percent or more.
Brown explained that when professors submit their orders late, the bookstore has to buy new copies from publishers because of the short deadline and stiff market competition for used books.
According to the report, the issue is further compounded by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which only requires professors to choose and make the names of their textbooks available “to the maximum extent practicable,” which offers a lot of leeway for late orders and no enforcement penalties.
“The law is written so it has no teeth,” Brown said.
Brown feels the issue is complicated by the fact that many courses are taught by adjunct faculty, many of whom are hired or placed in a class at the last minute without time to adequately prepare for their course. Brown thinks that an actual regulation at the federal level is unrealistic but that policy change needs to come from somewhere.
The problem is that the two most important decision-makers refuse to be part of the process, Brown said. Neither the university administration nor the faculty will take a stance on the issue.
The report also recommended that the State Board of Higher Education adopt a policy to ensure prompt ordering.
According to Diane Saunders, director of communications for the Oregon University System, the report has the attention of members of OUS, who work closely with the SBHE, but she did not have specific knowledge of how the report might impact policy yet. Members of the SBHE could not be reached by press time.
One already-working solution, which Woods said PSU’s Department of Economics has already implemented, is to have each course in the department be assigned a default textbook. If the professor has not submitted their order by a set date, the office manager orders the default book, which the professor must use. Other departments could do the same, he said, but the word just isn’t out there to the other departments.
Currently, compliance from professors is mixed and varies greatly in different departments. Brown said University Studies courses are particularly bad with late orders because those courses often have rapidly hired or rotating faculty, and the course’s book is not set ahead of time.
There is also pushback from faculty unions over the issue, Brown noted, because a default book could take away the professor’s ability to choose.
Victor Mena, academic affairs director with the Associated Students of Portland State University, was also in attendance for the bill’s workgroup. Mena was encouraged by the good ideas he heard but was unsure how the ideas were actually to be implemented.
Mena feels there isn’t enough of a culture at PSU encouraging professors to make changes. Currently, Mena is working on a campaign to lower costs by asking all professors to negotiate with publishers for copies of books to be put on reserve in the library, as well as to choose their books in a manner that reduces costs for students.
The full report produced by the group can be viewed on its website in the documents section: sites.google.com/site/hecctextbookgroup.