Book cost could see a decline next year

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

As the cost of tuition rises next year at Mississippi’s public universities, students will likely get significant relief from another expense.
The state College Board is considering a new policy that would put a large dent in the price of college textbooks.
“Students are tightening their dollars and with the economy where it is right now, everyone is looking at cost and where they can reduce the cost,” said trustee Christy Pickering of Biloxi.
Pickering oversaw a task force, with representatives from all eight public universities, that studied ways to reduce the cost of textbooks.
After considering that task force’s work, the board has given initial approval to a policy that would put more used textbooks on the market and give students more information and time to shop around for the cheapest options.
The policy is expected to get board approval on Feb. 18 and could take effect immediately.
“It would allow us to save money in what is probably one of the highest expenses in higher education, which is textbooks,” said Ole Miss senior Artair Rogers of Guntown, president of the school’s Associated Student Body.
Lowering the cost of textbooks would provide some relief from upcoming tuition increases approved by the board last week to help cover budget shortfalls. For 2010-11, tuition will rise an average of 6.8 percent; for 2011-12, it will go up 6.9 percent.
The plan on books would:
– Keep new textbooks assigned by professors in use for at least three years for lower-level classes and two years for higher-level classes (300-level and above). This would give students a better opportunity to find used books and to sell their books back to the bookstore at the end of the year.
– Require professors or departments to provide a list of assigned books for a course by the time students register for the following semester. That list must also contain the book’s ISBN, a number that identifies the precise edition of that book, and information about whether the book is required or recommended.
– Encourage the use of the same textbooks for all sections of a course, particularly lower-level courses. It also will ask professors from all eight public universities to consider matching textbooks for particular courses to increase the used-book market.
– Provide faculty with information about the price of books and the availability of alternate formats for class materials.
– Provide students with tips on purchasing textbooks, including the availability of electronic versions.
– Encourage the each of state’s public universities to appoint a textbook coordinator.
The savings could be significant. According to a report by the College Board, American students spent an average of $800 to $900 a year on textbooks and supplies in 2005-06.
“Everybody at every college and university in the country is concerned about the rising cost of college education,” said Bill Broyles, Mississippi State University’s Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. Broyles co-chaired the Textbook Task Force with University of Mississippi Associate Provost Maurice Eftink.
“The price of textbooks seems to be escalating at a price higher than you would expect with ordinary inflation.”
But used textbooks tend to be much cheaper. A 2007 student by the National Association of College Stores reported that used textbooks typically are priced at 75 percent of the retail price.
“This shifts the balance from the publishers having a good bit of the power to students having more buying power,” said Blake Jeter, president of the MSU Student Association.“Students sometimes make choices not to buy textbooks just because they don’t have the money to do so. We’d rather students not take any risks with their education and instead buy the books.”
The new policy will require some adjustment for professors because they will need to choose the required reading for a class sooner. They’ll also lose some flexibility in determining which books their students will read.
Eftink, who is also a chemistry professor at Ole Miss, said it will be easier for some professors than for others.
“Sometimes having timely content is important,” Eftink said. “Can you imagine teaching political science and not having the 2008 election in the book? But in other disciplines where the content does not change, the professor may be fine with the same textbook and just hope that the publisher provides it for three years.”
The new policy would allow special exceptions, Eftink said.
Students are trying to recognize the extra efforts of professors by holding a “Keep Books Cheap Appreciation Week” every semester and thanking faculty who kept cost in mind when choosing textbooks.
Eftink said there has to be a trade-off between coming up with the best textbook and generating a used-book market that will benefit the students.
“We’re at the nexus between academia and trying to serve students with the business world,” Eftink said.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.