Textbook bill should be required reading

As expected, the Board of Trustees raised tuition Wednesday, pushing the total cost for new freshmen to more than $20,000 a year. But one part of that cost hits college students hard all over the country: textbook prices.

Textbooks cost full time students about $900 a year nationally, according to the Student Public Interest Research Group. But more troubling than that is that prices are going up at about four times the rate of inflation.

We aren’t necessarily getting more for our money. All too often students end up buying textbooks and never using them during the semester. They collect dust in drawers when we discover that homework and exams are based off lecture notes and reserve readings.

Nevermind the frustration a student feels when he sees classmates doing just as well in a course with a 5th edition of a book that they purchased for $20 on the Internet when he bought the instructor-required 6th edition for more than $80.

All too often, the differences between editions are minimal. With minor changes and the addition of superfluous material like CDs, publishers can repackage their offerings at a handsome profit in a process called bundling. But then the rub comes when students find out they really don’t need the CD. Or worse, they find out they need the CD and the not the vastly more expensive book.

But a bill in the Illinois House introduced by local Representative Naomi Jakobsson would go a long way toward alleviating these problems. And of course, in the continuing decline of state support to higher education, measures that aim to cut costs to students, are incredibly welcome.

The bill, HB4903, would require textbook publishers to provide a breakdown of the costs of a textbook. Presumably, this would mean that instructors who are looking for class texts can see whether the added cost of new books is primarily due to supplement material or needed updates to the old edition.

Additionally, the bill would stop the practice of bundling and allow each part of a book package to be sold separately and more cheaply. For example, you could buy books without the CD you’ll never use anyway.

In the end, this bill should be good for the economy and higher education. Students will be graduating with less debt and more potential students can afford to go to college in the first place.

The House bill should be passed because the transparency and the choice it provides for instructors, students and their families is not only laudable, it should be academic.