Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Textbook legislation misses shot at honor roll

You don’t need a doctorate in economics to realize that the rising cost of books is pushing college students’ budgets to the breaking point.

An average Wildcat, Sun Devil or Lumberjack student, already stretched by tuition increases, pays about $900 a year on books and supplies. That adds about 20 percent to the cost of in-state tuition.

A 2006 Government Accountability Office report shows that prices for textbooks are rising at twice the rate of inflation. You would think the books were printed with gasoline.

That’s why the Arizona Legislature did right to pass bills that will move toward making textbooks more affordable. Unfortunately, the lawmakers did not go far enough.

The legislation would make textbook publishers disclose the wholesale or suggested retail price of each book, and to summarize key content changes made over the book’s earlier version. The measures also would prevent publishers from compensating faculty for their choices of course materials.

It’s a start, says Tiffany Troidl of the Arizona Students Association, which represents students at the state’s three universities. But, she says, “there’s still more to do to make textbooks affordable.”

We agree.

The state’s universities need to address one of the key factors behind the high cost of textbooks, lack of a standardized selection system.

In Maryland, for example, the state’s universities have banded together to, when possible, select the same books for the same courses, then press publishers for bulk discounts.

We’re disappointed that Arizona’s lawmakers removed from their legislation a provision that would have required textbook publishers to sell accompanying CDs and workbooks separately. Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington have passed such “unbundling” laws.

An a la carte approach makes sense given that the supplementary materials increase the cost of the textbook by an average of 10 percent and that 65 percent of faculty says it rarely or never uses the extra stuff, according to a 2004 survey by state Public Interest Research Groups.

We would like to see Arizona raise the bar on what constitutes a “new edition” of a textbook. Maryland and other states are debating legislation to mandate that new editions can be required only when at least 30 percent of the content has been updated.

The new legislation gets a solid C+ and Gov. Janet Napolitano should sign it into law.

But it places the burden to keep down prices on professors.

Next time, the Legislature should hold publishers, who enjoy a 25 percent profit margin on new textbooks, to a tougher grading curve.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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