Timely textbooks

Federal law will soon mandate that textbook requirements be posted as soon as classes are announced for each term at Portland State.

Federal law will soon mandate that textbook requirements be posted as soon as classes are announced for each term at Portland State.

Colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid for students—including Stafford loans, Pell grants and other programs—must meet the legal requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, to be enacted by Congress July 1, 2010.

Part of the HEOA requirements is that textbook information should be available when class schedules are posted.

Textbook ISBN numbers, price information and supplemental materials will be on the PSU Bookstore’s Web page for compliance purposes, according to a memo sent to deans, faculty and staff by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Roy Koch on Dec.18, 2009.

According to Koch’s memo, fines could be imposed on the university or limitations on federal financial aid for noncompliance.

The intention behind the requirements “is to enable students to make more fully-informed decisions regarding course selections and to enable students to seek out less expensive sources from which to acquire required materials,” according to Koch’s memo.

“We believe it is a great idea to help students understand what the costs will be,” said Donna Bergh, special assistant to the provost.

Koch’s memo set an April 15 deadline for professor’s textbook course requests to be submitted to the PSU Bookstore for fall term 2010.  Although some students may be directed by professors to other bookstores or to course packets available at print shops, submitting the information to the PSU Bookstore helps provide compliance with HEOA because the information is accessible through links to the PSU Bookstore’s Web page on the class schedules.

Koch’s memo also provides deadlines for professors’ course textbook requests for winter, spring and summer terms of 2011.

The PSU Bookstore will regularly provide information to department chairs regarding who is responsible “for assuring that all available textbook material is submitted to the PSU Bookstore as required to the greatest extent possible,” the memo states.

Ken Brown, CEO of the Portland State Bookstore, is helping the university with compliance by providing relevant information.

“The basic idea is still getting shaken out,” Brown said.

His single biggest warning to students is not to order books early simply because they are available, because there is a likelihood that the textbook course requirements will change, Brown said.

According to Brown, the PSU Bookstore is not going to order materials until August 2010 for fall term and even then faculty can change their mind, Brown said.

“Don’t order online where you can’t return it,” he said.

A portion of Koch’s memo mentions that, although it is sometimes very difficult to meet the deadline, textbooks to be announced are to be kept to a minimum, “particularly for courses taught by full-time faculty or taught using materials chosen by the department.”

A draft textbook guidance document written by the U.S. Department of Education asks textbook publishers to provide information about three previous editions—if any exist— along with the changes that were made to each edition.

A section titled “overcoming the high cost of textbooks” includes best practices of textbook buy-backs, used book sales and textbook rental programs. The PSU Bookstore is currently beginning to look into the possibility of a textbook rental system, according to Brown.

Polly Livingston, director of the PSU Disability Resource Center, is excited at the prospect of receiving textbook information for students sooner. According to Livingston, it can take four to six weeks after receiving textbook course requirements to provide alternative text formats for students who need them, such as in the case of visually impaired students.

According to Livingston, the term “in a timely manner,” often used to refer to getting alternative textbook materials for students, should mean when other students are able to get the textbooks needed for classes, all students should have the ability to do so.

“Sometimes students want to read ahead for classes,” Livingston said.