Proposed bill regarding textbook longevity prompts student, faculty response

Adam Hamze

Radio-television-film sophomore Carissa Bittle said that, at the end of every semester, she receives almost no reimbursement for textbooks she had paid hundreds of dollars for because her professors assign a new edition of the book every year.

“I bought three history textbooks. … One of them was loose-leaf, and [my professor] started using the new edition. … No one would buy it,” Bittle said. “If they’re going to require me to buy this, they should at least make it affordable.”

A bill currently up for debate in the Florida Senate would require undergraduate textbooks to be in use for at least three years at state institutions. Texas currently maintains no such policy.

According to an annual survey by the Office of Student Financial Services, in 2012-2013, students spent an average of $452 on textbooks — the highest it had been in five years of the office conducting the survey.

Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, said he thinks it is important for textbooks to be up-to-date, but, if no crucial information changes between editions, he does not believe it is worth the extra money students are required to pay.

“I do think there is a balance that has to be struck between teaching outdated material and cost that students have to incur to get the high quality education they’re seeking,” Melecki said. “If there’s a small passage in one chapter that’s been updated, maybe that’s not the case.”

According to publishing company Scholastic, the four largest textbook publishers make a total of $4 billion per year in revenue. 

Government professor Brian Roberts said there is always new information being taught in his field that textbooks cannot keep up with, making immediate changes to textbooks unnecessary.

“I think, in the world of political science, there is certainly a place for classes to address certain current issues — whether that has to be in the textbook is a good question,” Roberts said. “There are core ideas about politics that do not require being repeated in the new edition every year.”

The Student Financial Services website includes a section called UT 4 Less that lists methods to limit student fees, including ways to “Slash Book Costs.” According to Melecki, the goal of the financial aid office is to do more than just award and distribute financial aid.

“I’d like us to be in a position to offer students guidance and counseling about how to be smart in their spending decisions,” Melecki said.