For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON (May 25, 2007) – The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advises the Department of Education and Congress on student financial aid policy, has completed a yearlong report to Congress on potential solutions to the problem of skyrocketing college textbook prices. The study was requested by Congressmen David Wu (D-OR) and Buck McKeon (R-CA), part of a follow up to last year’s Government Accountability Office study that confirmed much of the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign’s own research on the problem.
“Overall, this is a very well done report,” said David Rosenfeld, Program Director for the Student PIRGs. “It confirms much of what we know about the burden of textbook prices on students, but also offers a smart package of solutions that can introduce real competition into the publishing industry and free students from the stranglehold that traditional publishers have on the market.”
1. The report confirms that textbook prices “represent a significant barrier to access and persistence.” The report concludes that textbooks cost between $700-$1000 per year; textbook prices have risen much faster than other commodities; and that college aid fails to cover textbook expenses (and many other college costs).
2. The report offers a clear analysis of the market which correctly recognizes the disproportionate amount of power that publishers have in the market, and the need to restructure the market so that it is ‘student-centric’.
3. The report acknowledges there is a large basket of ‘short-term solutions to the problem. The report provides a comprehensive look at the plethora of options – including rental programs and faculty adoption guidelines – that we have advocated for at the campus level.
4. The report finds that there are many 21st Century Technologies that are dramatically less expensive and more flexible than traditional textbooks. It is our view that many of these options represent the single greatest path to real competition in the textbooks market, a view recently examined in more depth in our recent report, Textbooks for the 21st Century.
5. The report calls for a “national digital marketplace” where all content – commercial and non-commercial – can compete against each other on one platform. This is an intriguing “big idea” that could potentially expand the number of learning content choices and hasten mainstream academia’s development and adoption of less expensive learning content.
In general, this report presents an excellent set of solutions. We have two criticisms of the report.
1. The report should have made a clearer distinction between alternative-licensed content and traditionally-licensed “E-Books” offered by traditional publishers, since there are significant differences in both price and use restrictions and many people do not understand those distinctions very well.
2. Although the report strongly advocates for strengthening the used book market, the report weakens this stance by repeatedly cautioning that a successful used book market automatically results in more new editions and higher prices.
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.