U task force tackles topic of hefty textbook expenses

The task force recommended that faculty members make deals with publishers.

Elizabeth Cook

There’s a possibility students won’t be scraping up change to pay for textbooks in the future.

The task force on textbook costs met several times since last spring to discuss issues and to brainstorm ways to make it cheaper for students to buy their books.

But before students spend all their textbook money, they should know the committee only makes recommendations that are passed on the Council of Undergraduate Deans.

These recommendations include faculty awareness, increasing the availability of used books and having more books on reserve in University libraries.

One of the recommendations is to make faculty members more informed about the costs of the books they choose to use.

Gary Gray, a professor of chemistry and head of the task force, said that when faculty members choose a book for their class, they don’t even know the price associated with the book.

One recommendation for faculty members is that they negotiate prices with publishers, require publishers to submit pricing information before deciding on a book, try to avoid bundled textbook packaging and allow students to use older editions of books.

“Then we could still buy back the old (textbooks),” said Robert Crabb, the director of University Bookstores, because they’d still be of use.

Crabb said he will hire a liaison for the textbook department, who can assist faculty members and departments with how to negotiate with publishers and also about buy-back effects.

One of the problems associated with book buy-backs, Crabb said, is that when books come bundled – with computer programs, solution manuals or audiotapes -students often lose one of the items. Full buy-back rates are available only for complete sets.

Gray said the task force would rather have faculty members choosing stand-alone items. Then, if students lose one part, they still can sell back what they do have.

Another component in the textbook challenge deals with the libraries.

Paul Nelson, an economics senior and member of the task force, said the libraries can help students by having textbooks and supplements on reserve.

Nelson said that as it is now, the libraries have some books for larger classes on reserve, but many students don’t know they are there, or they do and only use them to study if they don’t feel like carrying the book with them.

What really will help bring down the cost of books, said Amy Jo Pierce, political science senior and member of the task force, is if there is more communication between faculty and staff members, the libraries and the bookstore.

The committee already has tried a pilot project when it came to picking the books for Chemistry 1021 and 1022, Gray said.

In the past, Gray said, he was successful in negotiating down the cost for a similar package for Chemistry 2301 and 2302.

The textbook and solutions manuals ended up costing students almost $193. So, Gray said, he negotiated with two publishers and both submitted proposals.

The exact cost has not been determined yet, and negotiation is still in the process, but Gray said next fall the students should be paying about $123.

Nelson said Gray’s example was great, but it won’t happen on a large scale because the deadline for professors to pick their books is in a few weeks.