Textbook prices soar; legislation on the way to offset cost

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The cost of college textbooks has increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation since 1994, costing students upwards of $900 per academic year, according to a study released Tuesday by the State Public Interest Research Groups.

The study, which surveyed textbook prices at 59 public and private universities across the country, found that students are paying more than one fifth the cost of tuition at a public four-year university for textbooks, 62 percent more than they paid ten years ago.

“This report shows that publishers use needless new editions and gimmicks to drive up the cost of textbooks,” said Luke Swarthout, a higher education associate with the State PIRGs. “The losers in this scam are students who will have a harder time paying for college.”

Price increases usually occur when publishers print a new edition of a textbook. Purchasing a new textbook costs students an average of 45 percent more than an older edition used book. Bundling, the practice of attaching CD-ROMS or workbooks to textbooks also increases the price by about 47 percent.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a press conference that he is deeply concerned by how much students and parents are paying today for textbooks.

“Textbook prices are going up, up and up,” Schumer said, adding that his daughter spent $900 on textbooks her first year in college. “The old laws of supply and demand don’t work when it comes to textbook pricing. Students have to buy them or they lose a fundamental part of their education.”

To assist parents and students with the rising cost of textbooks, Schumer said he will introduce legislation this year that will provide up to a $1,000 tax deduction from federal income taxes for the cost of textbooks.

“For the first time ever, this proposal would let parents or students deduct the cost of their books from their taxes,” he said. “This means real dollars and real savings for middle class families who have to beg and borrow to send their kids to college.”

Katherine Imp, a sophomore at the University of Maryland at College Park, said she believes students are being ripped off when they purchase textbooks.

“We have to buy new, more expensive books with fancy CDs that never get used,” she said. “Then at the end of the semester we can’t sell them back to the bookstore, so we lose all of the money.”

Imp said that at times students can’t afford to buy a book on their own and are forced to choose between sharing with friends and using the one copy for the whole class in the library.

“This is a terrible dilemma to face during the learning process,” she said. “Textbook publishers should address the impact their rising prices are having on struggling college students.”

Swarthout said that the State PIRGs are calling on the publishing industry to adopt “best practice” policies that would ensure that publishers keep production costs as low as possible while retaining educational value.

Bruce Hildebrand, a spokesman for the Association of American Publishers, said that new versions of textbooks are printed because professors want their students having access to the most up to date information possible.

“We are suppliers who work with professors who tell us what they need,” he said. “We compete to the toenail to provide the best possible products to meet students needs.”

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