Book prices hit Congress

Many students who wanted an escape from unprecedented increases in textbook prices shopped at online retailers and secondhand bookstores to save money this semester, but they might soon find relief from the federal government.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found that the cost of textbooks nearly tripled from 1986 to 2004 and prices are still rising at an average of 6 percent per year. These figures, coupled with high tuition costs, prompted Congress and 34 states to introduce legislation to curb prices for students already feeling the pinch of an economic downturn.

While students wait for the legislature to weigh in on the legislation, some GW professors are making conscious efforts to soften the blow of rocketing prices. Chad Rector, assistant professor of political science and international affairs, said that teachers understand their students’ textbook troubles.

“Professors are generally quite sensitive to students’ concerns and make an effort to use textbooks efficiently – if at all,” Rector said.

Cliff Ewert, vice president of public and campus relations at Follett, blamed publishers and not the GW Bookstore, which is operated by Follett, for the exorbitant cost of books.

“Publishers should become more aware of student price sensitivity and, when possible, modify their materials to be more cost efficient,” Ewert wrote in an e-mail.

He added that the GW Bookstore should not have to buy the bundle packages associated with certain textbooks, which package multimedia and workbooks with the required textbook.

“Neither bookstores nor students should be required to purchase bundles, some components of which may serve a limited academic purpose,” he wrote. “We support the concept that each component in the bundle should be available separately and at a reasonable cost, including access to required electronic components.”

Sophomore Kristen Suver decided to forego the campus store altogether this semester and use in an effort to save some money, but she said she still spent hundreds for her books.

“My total bill ended up being about $600 for five classes,” she said.

Anthropology professor Joel Kuipers said he also takes prices into account when ordering books for a class but added that sometimes the best books for a class can be pricier than alternatives.

“It’s tricky. On the one hand, I try to order books that are up to date, current and cutting-edge scholarship,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Such books tend to be more expensive than older books.”

To help keep costs down, however, Kuipers said he tries to find books available in paperback or those that can be purchased used.

David McAleavey, a professor in the creative writing program, said he “definitely” considers price when choosing books for a class, but admitted quality still trumps affordability in his decision-making.

He said, “I normally opt for the best book rather than the cheapest.”

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