Oregon state legislature proposal shows lowering textbook prices is statewide concern

Textbook prices have skyrocketed in recent years, and the Oregon state legislature is finally taking a look at lowering costs for students and universities.

Students spend more than $1,100 on textbooks every year on average, which is about 20 percent of the amount students spend on tuition according to Flat World Knowledge, an open-source textbook provider.

House Bill 3651 proposes to direct the Joint Boards of Education to report on strategies to reduce higher education textbook costs. The analysis made will be provided to higher education facilities and will be recommended for implementation by the Joint Boards of Education.

Bruce Lundy, book division team leader at The Duck Store, said students and parents often worry about the cost of textbooks.

“This is no different from any other college or university in the country, and it has been a concern since at least the 1920s or 1930s,” Lundy said. “We’ve found records from the early years of our store showing that students’ major concerns included the cost of textbooks.”

Strategies such as statewide bulk purchasing of books, statewide used-book exchange, open-source textbooks, shared online materials, textbook rentals and facilitating peer-to-peer textbook sales will be analyzed by the Joint Boards of Education by the 2013 legislative [email protected]@Double “by” [email protected]@

“At the University of Oregon, and I suspect at other places as well, textbook acquisition and sale is actually done by a private nonprofit,” Rep. Phil Barnhart said. “I’m wondering if this bill would affect that operation.”

Lundy said he does not think it would affect operations at The Duck Store.

“If the University wanted us to make changes, I’m sure we could accommodate that, if we haven’t done so already,” Lundy said.

Katie Markey, student body president at Portland State University, spoke at the May 16 public hearing on the bill and gave the full support of student leaders throughout the [email protected]@[email protected]@

“We need to find a way to lower the cost of postsecondary education,” Markey said. “This bill is a good start. Textbook costs are an undeniable contributor to the constant rise of the price of education. We talk a lot about tuition and financial aid, but if you can’t afford your books there’s no real chance of succeeding in the classroom.”

A 2008 study by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group concluded that students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks.

Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, an open-source publisher, testified before the House Rules Committee that this number has risen to $1,122 in 2010.

Frank related the spike in textbook costs to a higher dropout rate, as students will no longer be able to afford their textbooks. Flat World Knowledge charges between $1 and $60 for a book, a significantly smaller amount than publishers.

Open-source textbooks are books written by professors or graduate students that will be available for little or no cost to students.

Lundy agreed, saying that on average students spend about $400 a term on textbooks, but that there is a great variation depending on the major.

The Duck Store has been working toward creating an efficient in-store rental system and hopes this will be in place in time for fall term.

“I used to not like the idea of open-source books,” Lundy said. “They’ve changed the process to where universities are working with open source publishers to compensate them in some way, because I think everybody should get paid for the work they do.”

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