State Senate tries to lower textbook costs for students

By Amanda Graf

Eleven cents may not seem like much money. But pay 11.76 cents per page for a 778-page textbook, and the bill comes to $91.49 for only one book – among many required texts.

“The rising cost of textbooks is a national phenomenon,” said Donald Sevener, director of external relations for the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The Illinois state Senate is considering a package of bills introduced by Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago that would help students to handle the ever-increasing price of textbooks in higher education.

Senate Bill 327 would give students a tax income credit worth 5 percent of their total textbook cost; the credit would not exceed $75 per year. Another bill, SB 325 seeks to establish a Textbook Advisory Committee at each state college and university that would work with publishers and retailers to help reduce cost for students. A third bill, SB 326, would create a textbook consumer information act to keep students and faculty informed of the best deals when ordering and buying class materials.

“It’s an unexpected burden,” said Ryan Ruzic, former student body president and senior in LAS. Ruzic said students are aware that they will need to buy textbooks, but they often are not prepared to pay “quite so much.”

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Ruzic said the pending legislation is a good start toward fixing the textbook problems at the University, but he would like to see more action taken to consider issues like whether or not professors who write textbooks should be able to require students to buy a book which they could profit from directly.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education published a study in 2005 that analyzed the feasibility of creating a textbook-rental program at state colleges and universities. The study concluded that such a system would not suit large research institutions like the University. The study offered various other solutions to the rising cost of educational materials, such as avoiding bundling expensive yet nonessential items with textbooks, improving buy-back options, and giving students more time to seek out the best price for their required material.

Sevener said the proposed textbook advisory committee would work with students and faculty to oversee policies that would help to “rein in” some of the factors that increase costs. For example, the faculty should be informed of the revision history of textbooks so they can decide if new editions are necessary. If they are not, students have a better chance of selling back earlier versions and purchasing cheaper used editions.

“We try very diligently to provide as many used textbooks as possible,” said Jon Tichenor, store manager of T.I.S. College Bookstore, 707 S. Sixth St. “If faculty gets the information to us quick enough, we can order more used books.”

T.I.S. belongs to the Used Textbook Association, an advocacy group that supports making higher education materials more affordable.

“I don’t think the government should tell businesses what to do,” said Tichenor. “I think discussion between associations and publishers is more effective.”

Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said retailers and publishers have had years to fix the high cost of textbooks, but have not found a solution. “We shouldn’t have to,” Frerichs said about creating textbook legislation, “but it’s clear that we need to. This will have an impact.”

The Senate Rules Committee is currently considering the three bills.