GW is not in full compliance with a new federal law mandating that all textbook information be available to students when they register for classes.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act – which went into effect July 1 – requires all universities that receive federal funding provide students with information about textbook pricing when they register for classes. Even though registration began this week, not all classes have proper book information listed on the University’s schedule of classes website.
For classes that do not have the proper information, a “Books” link to the right of every class listing on the website directs users to a page that says, “To Be Determined. Course Material selections are still under review by department.”
If a University is not in compliance with the law, the Department of Education would not take any action to enforce it, Sara Gast, a public affairs specialist from the Department of Education said. The Department of Education does not keep track of who follows the guidelines.
“As stated in the statute, the purpose of the provision is not about compliance and enforcement but rather, it’s about transparency and encouragement,” she said.
University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Lerman said GW is working on getting complete book lists for all classes, but said it is still a work in progress.
“Fortunately people who wrote the regulation anticipated that it would be difficult to get 100 percent compliance and it will be a gradual process,” Lerman said.
GW supports the reasoning behind the law, he said.
“The goal of this of course is to reduce the cost of textbooks for students and we’re totally on board for that,” Lerman said
Forrest Maltzman, chair of the political science department, said faculty members are trying to get their textbook lists together.
“I think there is a widespread recognition among faculty that the costs of textbooks are too steep,” Maltzman said. “Many faculty have started to look at book pricing when putting together materials. When less expensive materials are available, we try to utilize them.”
Mathematics department chair John Conway said the law does not strike him as particularly helpful, as students need to take some required courses regardless of the books assigned.
“When I was a student the cost of the text would never have deterred me from taking a course I wanted or felt I needed,” Conway said. “I think this is probably an example of good intentions motivating lawmakers who don’t understand what happens in the academic world.”
Students interviewed said knowing the cost of their textbooks ahead of time could help them budget their funds more effectively.
“I think that knowing the prices of textbooks is important,” sophomore Alexa Shaffer said. “I’m on scholarship and knowing how much my books cost is a big deal. If they are going to cost me a significant amount of money I would want to know now.”
Sophomore Ben Rheault said he thinks the law is a good idea to avoid any surprises once the semester starts.
“It’s nice to know if a lab book is going to be $150, though, so it doesn’t come as a shock when its announced out of the blue in class,” Rheault said.
Lerman said it will take some time before the GW faculty fully understands the system.
“This is a requirement that all universities are grappling with. There is this sudden shift in getting faculty to fully understand how to do it. It’s taking time everywhere,” he said.
This article appeared in the November 11, 2010 issue of the Hatchet.