As anyone who has dropped four figures in one trip to Ulrich’s can attest, college textbooks are pretty expensive. Although the University and the Michigan Student Assembly have yet to work out a method to alleviate the situation, students at other universities may soon be in luck.
A recent proposal in the Minnesota state legislature – the most recent of several attempts by state governments to rectify the problem – would force publishers to sell books individually rather than in bundles and disclose when new editions of the books will be released. While this bill could provide limited relief for students in Minnesota, the actions of a state government on its own are not enough to solve the problem with textbook prices nationwide. If prices are to be reduced, it will require a more unified effort by universities and students themselves.
The Minnesota bill also requires professors to announce book lists well enough in advance to give students time to find a good price on textbooks. Other states have introduced similar programs or made textbooks a tax-free commodity. These ideas are a good start. Students should not have to buy bundles of textbooks that may contain books not required in their curriculum. But this type of problem that the majority of students across the nation face is one that cannot be handled by state governments.
States would have differing policies, meaning students in some states would be better off than others. The double standard also creates a dilemma for publishers, who would face different requirements in different states. Having federal regulations for textbook pricing and marketing is a better solution that at least gets beyond the uncertainty. Still, the problem facing college students is one that can be best solved at the university level, where the effects of textbook pricing are felt most.
Cutting through federal bureaucracy can take years, and even then such top-down regulations often don’t meet the concerns of individual universities. Universities have an obligation to their students to make every accommodation possible to make education accessible and affordable. Working with MSA, the University should negotiate agreements with book publishers to make changes like selling books individually and work with its professors to have book lists available before classes begin.
Parties ranging from MSA to Lester Monts, the University’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, have recognized the problem, but no one has offered any significant solutions. It is up to our student government and the University to do more. Individual students can do their part as well by voicing their concerns to student government and holding them accountable to following through on their promises.
While government regulation is one solution to textbook costs, there are better, more expedient means of making changes. Universities shouldn’t have to be compelled by the government to do what is best for their students. Similarly, students have no one to blame but themselves if they remain silent when necessary changes are overlooked.