Oregon legislators will consider a bill later this month that is intended to lower textbook prices for college students. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Springfield) and Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene), Senate Bill 365 would require that textbook publishers disclose their wholesale prices to the public and allow students to buy books separate from other components such as CD-ROMs or workbooks.
Oregon legislators will consider a bill later this month that is intended to lower textbook prices for college students.
Sponsored by Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Springfield) and Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene), Senate Bill 365 would require that textbook publishers disclose their wholesale prices to the public and allow students to buy books separate from other components such as CD-ROMs or workbooks.
In addition, the bill would force publishers to disclose plans for new editions of each book, helping students determine whether they will be able to sell the textbook when a course is finished.
The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) asked Morrisette to consider such a bill after research conducted in Massachusetts in the fall of 2006 revealed how much students are spending on books.
“Books are costing students too much,” said Laura Etherton, a consumer advocate with OSPIRG. “The prices are going up faster than inflation.”
“According to OSPIRG,” said Sen. Walker, “textbook prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation.”
Senator Morrisette said he wants to make school less expensive for Oregon’s students.
“I’m concerned about the high cost of education in general,” Sen. Morrisette said. “In many places, students are not able to sell their books back like they used to, and this bill could save the average student some money.”
A common practice, Etherton said, is for professors to take textbook costs into account on behalf of students when designing their courses.
“Most faculty members say they would get the cheaper book if there are two choices,” Etherton said.
According to the Massachusetts study, professors often have difficulty determining what prices their students will have to pay for a book. Less than half of the professors surveyed said that publisher’s websites listed prices for the books.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies and a former professor, said that textbook prices are easy to find, for the most part.
“Most faculty here are really aware of how much these books cost and try to be conscious of it,” Smallman said. “We can tell the bookstore to only order up to a certain price or stipulate that a number of the books be used.”
Another problem the bill would address is textbook bundling, when the book is packaged along with materials that may not be necessary for the course.
“It would require textbook companies to provide those books ‘a la carte,'” said Brett Rowlett, legislative director for the Oregon Student Association. “Most likely any student has bought a package like this unnecessarily, and it adds on to the expense greatly.”
The bill states that, “textbook prices are, as of 2005, 26 percent of the cost of tuition at an average four-year institution and 72 percent of tuition at the average community college.”
The bill also states that, “publishers artificially inflate prices through a number of practices, including undermining the used textbook market by often producing new editions of textbooks that contain few, if any changes from one edition to the other.”
Etherton said that bookstores are not charging a huge mark-up.
Students might see a difference in textbook prices as early as this fall if the bill is passed, Etherton said.
Massachusetts and Connecticut have passed similar laws, ensuring accessibility to prices for professors. California has passed a resolution discussing the problems students face, but does not mandate a change in publisher’s operations.