Students may see some relief from the high cost of textbooks thanks to a new federal mandate that makes textbook pricing information more accessible.
The new mandate, a provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, took effect July 1 and requires textbook publishers to provide university faculty with detailed written information about the books they order.
This includes the price of the textbook, the copyright dates of the last three editions and descriptions of content changes between those editions, the costs of bundled and unbundled options and what lower-cost options are available.
It also says universities are required to post information about the textbooks students will need for classes. At Virginia Tech, this means textbook information including price and ISBN number, should be available on the Internet course schedule on HokieSpa. Though the law went into effect on July 1, this information is not currently available through HokieSpa.
“I can only imagine the logistics involved,” said university spokesman Mark Owczarski.
He could not provide further details about when it would become available.
The law applies to all universities that receive public funding, including private schools that receive public money for financial aid.
Tech communication professor Buddy Howell said the idea behind the law is making pricing information more accessible so professors can make better choices about textbooks and save students money.
“Especially with the rising cost of tuition across the nation, people take into consideration what students have to spend on their books,” Howell said.
Advocates of the law said it would give students more options with their textbook purchases.
“We support this piece of legislation because we are totally supporting of transparency,” said Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for the higher education division of the Association of American Publishers, the principle trade organization of the U.S. publishing industry.
The added transparency will help both faculty and students get this information earlier and more easily.
“I think the more information you have, the better,” Howell said.
Tech psychology professor Scott Geller said he already compares prices and copyright dates when assigning textbooks to students. He said he is in favor of the new law because cost information is useful, especially in introductory courses for which more textbooks are written.
“Publishers have these catalogues that they sent out several times a year,” Howell said. “I’ll flip through there and if I find that there’s a new edition, there’s usually a summary. But it’s not the same as having a list. It helps if there’s some sort of detailed transparency, so it’s less vague.”
However, some say the mandate may have only limited effects because many professors are already well informed about the prices and content of the textbooks available in their fields.
“You’re paying all this money in tuition, but you’re paying for an education. And the faculty are paid to provide you with that,” Hildebrand said. “To provide that education they need to be aware of the prices and options in their fields.”
Tom Stanton, a spokesman for McGraw-Hill Higher Education, said the prices of his company’s textbooks are already available to all prospective buyers — professors, students and bookstores — through sales representatives.
Stanton also said anyone wishing to compare the prices of new and used textbooks from any publisher need only type the ISBN number or title of any book into a Web search engine.
“Faculty get information about textbooks from sales representatives, at conferences, through other peers, and through their own research,” Hildebrand said. “Students can shop online for the best prices for books. Why would anyone think that faculty haven’t done the same?”
Howell said though the information is already available, the law can save faculty time when considering different textbook options.