Tackling rising textbook costs

Faculty Council passed a resolution Monday that requires faculty members to submit the textbooks they plan to use for their classes to bookstores at least 30 days before the first day of class.

The council is responding to a multi-pronged bill passed by the Legislature last year that intended to cut textbook costs for students. By requiring faculty members to submit their book lists ahead of time, bookstores are able to better anticipate the number of textbooks to order, and students are given more time to explore alternative means of acquiring their textbooks.

Other parts of the bill require textbook companies to disclose what changes are made in newer editions of textbooks, although some parts of the bill will not take effect until the fall semester.

There are a few logistical issues that still need to be worked out, as a several faculty members at the meeting mentioned that they are not always notified of which classes they will have to teach until near the start of the semester. For the most part however, the bill is an efficiency-boosting deal and the council’s resolution shows a good-faith effort to follow through with that.

The rising cost of textbooks is far from a fresh issue, and it is a tenet in the conversations about affordability in higher education that occur in circles ranging from state legislators to the Obama Administration. At system schools such as UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American, textbook costs can comprise more than one-fourth of the total cost of education.

At the root of the rising costs is an uncertainty of revenues for textbook companies. With a large used-textbook market, publishing giants aggressively churn out and push new editions of textbooks onto faculty members and students, and the companies charge egregious premiums in anticipation of lost revenue from books being resold.

While the Legislature and Faculty Council have both taken positive steps to reduce costs, universities across the country will need to come up with more creative solutions to alter a business model that continues to tax students disproportionately.