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Regents Committee Approves New Policy To Address Textbook Costs

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Atlanta — May 17, 2005

The Board of Regents’ Academic Affairs Committee took action today to address rising textbook costs with the approval of a new board policy that gives University System Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith authority to “establish guidelines concerning the designation and sale of textbooks required for coursework at USG institutions.”

Today’s action follows an extensive study of college textbook costs and statewide public forums that resulted in recommendations that will be finalized by the full Board of Regents tomorrow.

The new policy states that the guidelines should address minimal provisions for all 34 USG institutions to increase communication among students, faculty and college bookstores regarding textbook costs; ensure that bookstores provide more varied cost options; and require a third-party review process on some textbook decisions. In addition, the board directed Meredith to explore the feasibility of obtaining a sales tax exemption on textbooks through the state legislature and to use the USG’s combined purchasing power to seek lower textbook prices.

“The bottom line for students is that they want more options when it comes to buying textbooks,” said William Bowes, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs in his presentation to the Board of Regents Academic Affairs Committee. “Today’s board action not only will address this concern, but create an environment in which all parties can work together to help reduce textbook costs.”

The approved recommendations that will be incorporated into the new guidelines include:

  • Encouraging faculty to identify textbooks in a timely manner to allow students more time and greater flexibility to explore different options for purchase;
  • Encouraging college bookstores to work more closely with faculty to communicate purchasing deadlines;
  • Encouraging faculty to consider textbook costs when selecting assigned texts;
  • Enhancing communications to better inform students on how textbooks will be used in the classroom and the options students have in acquiring books;
  • Encouraging institutions and bookstores to provide information to students regarding on-line book purchasing and to implement programs to enable students to pursue this option;
  • Establishing new processes at USG institutions to review bookstore operations and textbook options;
  • Creating a third-party review process to determine if faculty may use self-authored texts in the classroom;
  • Exploring how the USG can use its combined purchasing power to leverage lower prices with national publishers; and
  • Seeking legislative assistance to help reduce the overall cost of textbooks through sales tax exemptions.
  • “Better communications among students, faculty and college bookstore operators will help solve many of the issues identified by our task force and the forums,” said Bowes.

The new policy reflects the culmination of a process initiated in 2004, when the Board authorized Chancellor Meredith to create a Textbook Task Force to investigate textbook pricing and shape recommendations for potential board action. In addition to the task force’s findings, first presented to the board in Nov. 2004, University System officials also held a series of textbook pricing forums at four USG institutions in February and April of 2005. These public forums included students, faculty, bookstore managers and textbook publishing representatives.

A number of key findings emerged from the work of the Task Force and the forums:

  • Students were primarily concerned about cost, lack of options when purchasing textbooks and a perception that assigned books often were not used in the class.
  • Faculty members want the best teaching tools available and thus the lowest price was not necessarily a factor in which books to select. But faculty members also noted that pricing was not normally available when choosing textbooks for class use and such information would be useful.
  • Bookstore managers’ concerns included the fact that while used book sales are more profitable to the store, late decisions on textbook selection limit the ability of students to sell used books back to bookstores and for stores to then resell used books to students.
  • Publishers noted that the textbook market is very competitive and that due to the limited sales potential of textbooks when compared to a typical “best seller,” college texts are more expensive to produce.

In addition to these findings, Bowes highlighted some other key issues around textbook pricing including: the increasing use of “bundled” textbooks (i.e., textbooks that include other media such as CDs or DVDs), the use of more graphics and other materials in books that increase production costs, and increased publishing of new editions to incorporate new knowledge and information.

Bowes says the new policy and guidelines should be implemented by fall semester, 2006.

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