What Minnesota House higher-ed pols said about textbooks

Either he's grandstanding, or state Rep. Joe Atkins has had some bad experiences with textbooks and costs -- I assume during some period of teaching he said he's done.

At a state Office of Higher Education (OHE) presentation on textbook costs today, he told the other House higher education committee members:

College textbooks "are an outrageous, egregious ripoff -- and it’s getting worse."

He recalled pulling together his own material for when he taught, and said he'd regularly get calls from publishers offering him $100 to review one of their books.

He turned them down, he said, but asked, "Does that still go on?

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Another committee member replied: It happened to him as well.

Yeah, not much love for publishers in the room. A number of legislators seemed to focus on those companies' role in the problem of high costs, although the textbook report by the Office of Higher Ed -- which I reported on yesterday -- focuses more on what can be done here in Minnesota to help lower costs.

The gist of the report: There are too many national players out there for Minnesota to do much to change the whole cost system. Best thing for now is to make sure everyone involved follows recent textbook reforms and gets the word out to students early about what textbooks they need for each class. Earlier info means more time to shop around on the Internet for bargains, more time for bookstores to find more used books, etc.

(The report suggested that professors are best positioned -- and could do a better job -- to choose textbooks with cost in mind and let students know ASAP what books they'll use.)

A few tidbits and points from today's session:

  • OHE policy analyst Tricia Grimes said they took one student's textbook load for a semester and shopped around, pricing all the options. Total cost ranged from $140 to $400 -- quite a difference -- though paying only $140 meant ordering books from many different Web sites, she said. (Time-consuming and potentially complicated, I'd expect.)

  • Grimes warned that although online deals sound great, students need to consider shipping time  and cost, which could render delivery too late to be practical or eat into (or eliminate) savings.

  • Renting is on the rise, and the state is trying out a pilot rental program at a number of campuses. It's also looking at developing licensing for online versions of textbooks as well as custom textbooks, in which a professor might order only a few chapters out of a textbook.

  • A number of the new textbook options (such as e-Books) may seem cheaper, but students won't be able to sell them back the way they can with textbooks.

  • A large number of students still prefer textbooks, but that may change as e-Books develop.

  • Lack of competition among publishers isn't a problem.