Hundreds of thousands of students throughout California have scouted out their classrooms, introduced themselves to roommates and have endured those maze-like lines in front of the campus bookstore.
The expectation of textbook prices weighs on each student as they stand anxiously in line awaiting the inevitable shock they will receive at the sight of their bookstore receipt.
“I stood in line during my break between classes and was late to my next class,” said Jason Regan, a 22-year-old economics major.
“I spent all that time and ended up spending even more money.”
In just one trip to the bookstore, students are expected to spend between $300 and $500 on textbooks alone.
This may come as a surprise to the new arrivals on campus; however, upperclassmen have learned to expect the hard blow to their bank accounts.
“This is my second year at Cal Poly so I have gone through this every quarter before,” Regan said. “It still hurts every time I see the prices. Even the used books aren’t cheap enough.”
Will students see a solution in the future or perhaps even a little extra spending money?
Last month, California’s legislature passed an innovative bill, SB832 – the College Textbook Affordability Act – designed to reduce the costs of college textbooks.
All that stands between students and a little extra change in their pockets is Gov. Schwarzenegger’s signature.
Tessa Atkinson-Adams, a student intern and Chair for CALPIRG (California Public Interest Research Group) at UCSB, said the bill will go into immediate affect after Schwarzenegger’s approval.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger has the opportunity to make textbooks affordable by signing the SB832,” Atkinson-Adams said.
CALPIRG is a statewide organization with support from nine of the UC and CSU campuses. Students came together to fund and direct the introduction of SB832, which was introduced last year.
The bill was introduced to State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, upon which the legislator agreed to author SB832.
“This bill would require textbook publishers to post their prices up-front in all of their marketing materials so that professors can easily shop around for the best book at the best price,” Atkinson-Adams said.
In addition to forcing textbook publishers into disclosing the price of their products on their Web site, the bill will also require publishers to show the estimated length of time they intend to keep the product on the market.
“I think the worst part about the price is knowing once you purchase the book you’re stuck,” Regan said.
“When I go to return my books I get 10 bucks for a book I paid $75 for. Then there are those times I only get one buck and the book isn’t even a year old.”
A complete list of all substantive differences or changes made between the current edition and the previous editions of the textbooks will also be mandatory information available to faculty.
“We have done research and surveyed professors and we found that when the textbook publishers would have sales meetings, 74 percent of the time they would disclose the price of the textbooks,” Atkinson-Adams said. “The professors are left with no idea to what the price is going to be.”
The CALPIRG report “Exposing the Textbooks Industry” showed that 94 percent of the surveyed faculty said if they knew the price of the textbooks they would take that into consideration when picking textbooks for a class.
“Out of the faculty surveyed, only 38 percent said they always got an answer after inquiring about the price of a textbook,” Atkinson-Adams said.
Another 63 percent of faculty surveyed said that they usually know the price of the books they assign.
According to a textbook fact sheet provided by www.maketextbooksaffordable.org, the average student in California spends more than $900 on books each year.
The costs of textbooks are now equal to 20 percent of the tuition and fees at a four-year public university and 43 percent of the tuition and fees at a community college.
Broke students and guilt-ridden professors are not the only ones supporting the bill.
Other supporters include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, California Association of College Stores, UC Student Association and many more.
“The only opposition is coming from the publishing companies themselves,” Atkinson-Adams said. “They tried to pass the College Textbooks Transparency Act (AB1548) but it is a weaker bill.”
AB1548 requires that publishers print the wholesale price only upon the books themselves. This meant faculty would still have to obtain the prices by asking for them, not by checking marketing materials or posting the prices on the Web sites.
The bill would also force publishers to print in the textbooks the differences between old and new editions. However, this would not go into effect until 2010.
Supporters of SB832 agree these steps are “not bad” but insist that they are “just not enough.”
Atkinson-Adams says the reason textbook publishers are so keen on keeping their prices undisclosed because they know that it will affect which books professors want to buy.
“Part of the disclosure is listing all the different options for textbooks,” Atkinson-Adams said.
“For instance, professors can request a book to be in black and white or in paperback. They can also even order them unbundled so we don’t have to pay for the CD- ROMs and workbooks.”
So why exactly do textbooks cost so much?
One of the main reasons, according to CALPIRG, is because the marketplace operates outside of normal market pressures. The faculty chooses the texts for students, who then must buy the book in order to succeed in the class.
“Publishers exploit this aberrance by aggressively marketing expensive books and not disclosing the price differences between books to faculty. This drives costs upward,” CALPIRG claimed in its report.
Applied nutrition senior Carolyn Sufit has witnessed firsthand the irony of having to buy an expensive book only to see it gather dust on her desk.
“The textbooks are not only over-priced; it’s the fact that half of the time they are not even necessary towards the class that required them,” she said.
Nevertheless, textbook publishers might find themselves in a lose-lose situation no matter what happens, since the new trend on campus is to obtain much-needed textbooks by a click of a mouse.
“Since I don’t get the money back that I should when selling them, I have started selling and buying my books from Amazon,” Sufit said.
“It is the best way to buy and I know a lot of other students who have started doing the same.”
Still, money-savers such as Amazon.com can cause just as much stress.
The delivery notice date has a tendency of keeping students waiting well into the week of classes for their required textbooks.
“I ordered off of Amazon.com only one time before,” Regan said. “I think it took a couple of weeks. I know I didn’t have it with me during the first couple days of class.”
If Schwarzenegger does indeed sign SB832 he would make California the sixth state to mandate transparency from publishers to faculty.