Textbook prices: No hope for now

By Matt DeRosa

With students returning to school this fall, there are a few things to look forward to as a given of campus life. A nauseated stomach from walking past Kam’s and CO Daniel’s, a teaching assistant taking over class the day after the syllabus is passed out, and a pocketbook plummeting when you buy your textbooks. The good news is that efforts have been made and others are still attempting to alleviate a financial burden that so many people overlook in higher education.

But not all ideas have been winners. I’m speaking about Naomi Jakobsson’s House Resolution 1080, introduced last spring. This bill mandated: “The [Illinois] Board of Higher Education shall conduct a thorough and comprehensive study of the cost and feasibility of implementing textbook rental programs at public universities and community colleges.”

While many would argue that this is a good idea, the vague goals of this resolution were already achieved by a report presented at the February IBHE meeting last year. The report was presented with the estimated startup and maintenance costs for all the public institutions to participate in textbook renting. The numbers were submitted by the institutions themselves, and they were utterly ridiculous. While the University of Illinois submitted an estimate of $11 million, smaller campuses such as Illinois State University believed it would take an initial $15.9 million to get their textbook rental program off the ground. The Board trusted the schools to give them estimates, and instead of seizing an opportunity to assist students, schools inflated projections so that this concept would hopefully die off.

A better thought out resolution, only because it was amended from its original form which called for exactly the same as HR 1080, was Senate Resolution 0692. Its amendments called for more than just gathering information from Illinois universities, but also contacting publishers, bookstores, and even authors for input on textbook costs. Furthermore, the Board would draft a report in cooperation with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to gauge what, if any, impact a rental program for each university would have on the state economy.

There have been a whole host of other solutions proposed, all of them with key downfalls that prevent their serious consideration. Eliminating sales tax on textbooks was one of the recommendations made by the Board of Higher Education Student Advisory Committee, and then re-proposed and credited to Lt. Governor Pat Quinn on his visit to this campus. However, achieving this idea became impossible once our current Governor learned of the money that would not be sunk into his General Revenue Fund. Naomi Jakobsson proposed HB 4867, a bill that basically died in Rules Committee, that, “Restricts the manner in which textbooks and supplemental learning materials may be bundled by the publisher or college bookstore,” meaning we’d no longer have to pay an extra $30 for an interactive CD that we won’t use, and, more often than not, that the instructor doesn’t even know is part of the book. Lastly, there is the possibility of entirely electronic textbooks. Students would buy a CD with the textbook on it, giving them the ability to do “quick search” as well as removable highlight. However, there is no resale of E-books, and many publishers refuse to use them due to the high probability of theft and copyright infringement. If you think that’s an absurd claim, go to your list of downloaded music and look at how many different remixes of Fergie’s “London Bridge” you have stored in iTunes, then reconsider why they are hesitant to put books on CD’s.

You may be asking, “All these possibilities sound great, but what can I do this semester to save money?” The answer is: NOTHING. You can do absolutely nothing but hope that in future semesters, some of these money-saving options are available to you. Or you can steal your books like a Columbia student I knew, so that selling them back renders pure profit.