With the start of a new semester, many students have been racking up expensive bills from buying textbooks. But a new federal law recently took effect that aims to alleviate this financial burden.
A recent provision to the Higher Education Opportunity Act requires colleges that receive federal funding to release the required textbook lists at the time of class registration. Also, textbook publishers now have to release prices and revision addendums to schools and professors so prices are more widely available.
Supporters of the new law, which went into effect Jul. 1, 2010, say the new provision will give college students ample time to search for cheaper textbook options on websites, use textbook buy-back programs or rent books instead of going to a campus bookstore.
According to a press release distributed last month by the the Student Public Interest Research Group, the new legislation will provide much-needed help to students when buying textbooks. Students spend an average of $900 on textbooks each year, according to the release.
Despite the new law, some University students say they won’t be changing their textbook buying strategies.
But for some students, like Engineering junior Paige Beyers who said she purchases her textbooks at the bookstores in town just before school starts, this new legislation probably won’t affect their textbook-buying practices.
“I spend about $500 or more per semester for my textbooks at the bookstore,” Beyers said. “I always go just before classes start.”
LSA junior Ryan Jackson said he no longer purchases his textbooks at a bookstore, but rather rents them from Chegg.com, a website that rents textbooks to students at a discounted price.
“I save about $200 now by renting my textbooks,” he said.
Tina Couch, vice president of public relations for Chegg.com, wrote in an e-mail statement that the company is in favor of the legislation, adding that it will likely allow students to take advantage of sites like Chegg.
“The Higher Education Opportunity Act is a step in the right direction as it creates transparency in the textbook industry for both students and professors,” Couch wrote.
The new law will also allow students to make more use of Half.com, according to Amanda Coffee, a public relations specialist with the company. The site gives users the chance to compare prices from a variety of booksellers.
“The Higher Education Opportunity Act is a huge step towards providing students and families on a budget with greater selection and better deals,” Coffee wrote.
The legislation could also mean an increase in students taking advantage of the University’s UBook program, which is an online forum hosted on CTools that facilitates used book exchanges.
Gretchen Weir, assistant vice provost for academic affairs, said she couldn’t predict how the new legislation will affect UBook, but she added that the goal of the program is to offer students another way to get cheaper textbooks.
“It was devised as a way for students to save money as a way to buy and sell books without a middle man and was part of a larger effort of the University to create a used book market on campus,” Weir said.
Representatives from Barnes and Noble, Inc. and Ulrich’s Bookstore declined to comment on the new legislation.
Jackson, the LSA junior, said that while he thinks the legislation will give students more options, it probably won’t change the way he shops for textbooks.
“I definitely support the opportunity to find the best deals and appreciate it, but I always end up waiting until the last minute anyways,” said Jackson. “Then again, I do think it is a really good idea and might utilize it next semester.”
Some students also hope that by forcing textbook publishers to disclose the prices of their textbooks to professors, more instructors will take notice of how much their course books cost and try to keep costs down.
“I hope that this new law will make the professors more aware of how much all these books cost, and then make final decisions based on that,” Beyers said. “I feel that if professors know that a book costs $200 for a student, they might not choose that book for a course.”
But Associate History Prof. Farina Mir said the new legislation won’t have much of an effect on how she chooses books for her courses.
“I try to keep the cost of my textbooks within the range of $100 to $150,” said Mir. “I don’t need to have a publisher tell me how much the textbooks are. I look into the prices myself.”
Mir said she does try to be conscious of the total cost of textbooks when picking them out.
“Sometimes I do choose a more expensive book because of the work the book is doing, but then I make concessions with my other additional textbooks,” Mir said. “After all, if the average college student takes four classes a semester, and each class’s textbooks are over $100, then that is a rather large portion of a college student’s educational expenses.”