Lawmakers Look to Cap High Textbook Prices

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The skyrocketing price of textbooks has drawn the attention of legislators and universities seeking ways to make textbooks more affordable and accessible for students who often rely on financial aid and graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

Lawmakers in Pallyup, Washington have proposed a cap on the prices of textbooks. According to Brynn Grimley of The News Tribune, there are two ways lawmakers have considered reducing prices. Rep. Hanz Zeiger’s House Bill 1958 proposes limiting professors to $100 per required book. Rep. Melanie Stambaugh’s House Bill 1973 would establish a pilot program at Eastern Washington University that would use grant money to fund the creation of course materials other than textbooks, like online material and videos created by professors. The goal, according to Stambaugh, is to increase access and affordability for students. Zeiger says, “There are strong interests that keep textbooks exorbitantly priced. It is not a true free market.”

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida plans to make college textbooks exempt from sales tax. Collin Breaux of the Panama City News Herald notes that his suggestions also include preventing tuition hikes of graduate school programs, requiring that undergraduate professors use the same textbooks for at least three years and asking colleges to inform students of textbook costs before registration.

Breaux interviewed local college employees, who all seemed to be in favor of the proposal. President Holdnak of Gulf Coast State College describes it as “rock solid” and “terrific.” Student Isiah Williams noted that “a 200-page book shouldn’t be $200,” and that it might help offset continually rising tuition costs.

Professors and students in Oregon are working with universities to cut the price of textbooks, the high cost of which, say students, sometimes prevents them from buying food. Richard Read has connected with multiple students and employees in Portland to raise awareness for this problem, which costs an average of $1,207 per year. This price has inflated more than medical care and new homes – an 812% increase since 1978.

Some professors have taken the initiative to write open source textbooks that are available for free, like one written by Kevin Ahern and Indira Rajagopal of Oregon State University. Portland State University has created a service allowing students to freely access content created by college staff, known as PDXScholar.

Read also investigated the case of one $280 textbook assigned by Portland State University professor Mike Paruszkiewicz, written by the Chairman of Harvard University’s Economics department, Gregory Mankiw. The PSU professor seems to agree with Rep. Zeiger, and views the textbook market as an oligopoly, or a market that contains only a few entities who can raise prices at will. With textbook royalties averaging 15% of profits, Mankiw made an estimated $42 million from one edition of the introductory work. However, according to David Anderson, an executive director at the Association of American Publishers, textbooks often require teams of more than 250 people, and the high cost is necessary to create high-quality textbooks.

Students have been using methods to cut costs like illegally downloading textbooks, renting them from Amazon or Chegg, buying older editions, or going without them entirely, often to the detriment of their education.