Washington Governor Signs College Textbook Transparency Act

For Immediate Release

OLYMPIA, Wash. (April 21, 2007) – Making Washington the first state to act in 2007 on the growing problem of college textbook prices, Governor Christine Gregoire signed a landmark measure this morning that will help lower the cost of textbooks for Washington college students. The law requires textbook publishing companies to disclose prices and change-of-edition information when marketing course materials to faculty in the state of Washington. The law effectively ends a longstanding practice by the publishing industry of withholding pricing information from faculty, resulting in more expensive textbooks hitting the shelves – and students’ pocketbooks.

“This is a huge victory for students, since it will ensure faculty have the tools they need to choose lower cost textbooks,” said Bryce McKibben, the Student Lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Washington and a Legislative Liaison for the Washington Student Lobby. “Many students are already struggling to pay for college, and textbook prices have become a large part of college costs. Students are glad to see the Legislature include this issue in its efforts to make higher education more affordable.”

Research by the Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign has found that textbook prices have risen four times the rate of inflation over the past decade and the average student pays $900 per year on course materials. A recent study of faculty found that publishers do not adequately disclose price information to faculty, who care about the cost of textbooks and want better information. Specifically, only 23% of faculty rated publishers’ websites as “informative and easy to use”, and that 77% of faculty said that publisher sales representatives “rarely” or “never” volunteer price information. Even when professors directly asked for the price during a sales meeting, only 38% reported that the sales representative would always disclose the price.

“The cost of textbooks to students is largely dependent on which books instructors choose to require. This shows that professors are willing to choose cheaper books but they do not always know the information necessary to do so,” said Daron Williams, a junior at the University of Washington and the leader of WashPIRG’s efforts. “That is why this legislation was so necessary.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) and sponsor of the Senate companion bill Senator Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) worked closely with students throughout the process. WashPIRG generated hundreds of phone calls from students to state legislators in support of the bill, while the Washington Student Lobby drove the effort in Olympia.

“Textbook prices have risen faster than inflation and tuition,” said sponsor Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle. “Professors understand the burden faced by students and parents, and are sympathetic. This bill will help reduce costs, while not compromising the faculty’s ability to select the best material for their courses.”

Students should still keep in mind that they may not see dramatically lower prices immediately, since lower cost materials to meet all course needs may not exist. “However,” continued Williams, “as more instructors choose less expensive textbooks, publishers will need to reevaluate their prices and offer lower cost versions.”

“Every student knows that textbook prices are out of control, but most students accept it as a fact of life. This bill gave students the opportunity to be engaged in the democratic process on an issue that affects us,” concluded Williams “It is easy to feel helpless against the textbooks industry, but the Governor’s signature will prove that if we speak up our representatives will listen.”

With the issue of textbook prices being heard from Sacramento to Little Rock, students in other states may benefit from similar efforts. Concerns may even reach the U.S. Congress when the Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance releases a report on textbook costs this spring.

About the Student PIRGs
The Student Public Interest Research Groups is a national network of non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that work on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform.