Friday, February 6, 2004

Group aims to cut college textbook costs

By Mary Beth Marklein
USA Today

A public interest group is calling on college textbook publishers to drop the "bells and whistles" and cut back on unnecessary new editions, which it says is driving up prices.

The Washington-based State PIRGs Higher Education Project, in a report released last week, estimates that some public university students will spend nearly $900 this year on textbooks, which represents almost 20 percent of the national average tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year universities.

The report follows similar concerns raised in Congress. In October, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed making up to $1,000 of textbook costs tax-deductible.

In November, Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., proposed an investigation into why textbook costs have increased. The PIRGs report is based on surveys of 156 faculty and 521 students last fall at 10 public colleges and universities in California and Oregon.

According to the National Association of College Stores, wholesale college textbook prices have gone up 35.1 percent since 1998, more than double the increase in other goods and services (except for food and energy), which rose 17.13 percent over that period.

The Association of American Publishers, which represents textbook publishers, disputes those figures. It puts the wholesale price increase at 7.69 percent from 1998 to 2002.

It also says books are revised or include ancillary materials such as CD-ROMS and study guides because of demand.

"If the faculty said, 'We don't want it,' the publisher wouldn't do it," says Judith Platt, AAP's director of communications.

Indeed, the PIRGs report urges more faculty attention to the issue and encourages the use of used-book swaps or rentals. But "we would really like to see the publishers themselves being more responsible about how they're pricing their books, being more accountable to both students and faculty," says Kate Rube of State PIRGs.

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