Legislature debates prices

By Dan Petrella

With the ever-increasing cost of higher education, skyrocketing textbook prices have become a concern for students and those who help pay for their education. Members of the Illinois legislature have begun to take notice.

In January, Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-103rd) introduced a bill aimed at lowering the cost of textbooks for students by placing restrictions on publishers, bookstores and faculty members. The idea for the bill came from Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn’s “College Textbook Initiative 2005,” which was unveiled in August, said Jakobsson’s legislative aid Erik Wiatr.

“It is important that businesses are able to make a fair profit, but students should not be forced to buy expensive books and items that are not even required course material,” Jakobsson said in a press release. “If students are financially unable to obtain their required course readings, then their education may be negatively impacted. This legislation allows us to begin a discussion on this issue and work to provide relief for students.”

If the bill passes, it will require publishers to inform, in writing, faculty members of the price of textbooks, supplemental materials and bundled materials at the time the materials are offered.

In turn, faculty members will be required to tell bookstores, in writing, which books and materials are required for their courses and which are recommended. They will also have to inform the publishers or bookstores that order the books what is the earliest edition that will be allowed for their courses. It will place no restriction on professors requiring the most recent edition.

Bookstores and faculty members will have to order unbundled and bundled versions of books if the supplemental materials are not required.

The bill will also require bookstores to make available as soon as possible a list of all required and recommended materials for courses being taught that semester, along with the International Standard Book Number for each book.

The Illinois Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution opposing book bundling and supporting Jakobsson’s bill at its meeting Wednesday night.

“We think that the most important provision of the bill is the one dealing with unbundling,” said Student Senator Justin Cajindos, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee and junior in LAS. “Forced packaging of supplemental materials with required books jacks up the price.”

The Student Senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee and Academic Affairs Committee are working together to combat rising textbook prices.

Academic Affairs Committee Chairwoman Melissa Kennedy, sophomore in LAS, said her committee has been working with the Illini Book Exchange, an online service that helps students coordinate reselling their textbooks without involving bookstores, to make students more aware of their services.

“There are a few changes I think could strengthen the bill,” said ISS Co-President Josh Rohrscheib, graduate student. “You could require publishing companies to disclose to faculty members how substantive the differences are between editions when a new edition comes out.”

A hearing on the bill was scheduled for next week in the Illinois General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, but was delayed to provide the legislators time to strengthen some of the bill’s provisions.

ISS members will be going to Springfield on Feb. 22 to lobby in support of the bill.

“Part of the mission of ISS is to ensure the student body a quality, affordable education,” Cajindos said. “That could become out of reach because of skyrocketing textbook prices.”