New law demands transparency in textbook prices
Ella Meloy was tired of being paid high textbook fees after signing up for classes. So, in May, the University of Oregon student testified before the state’s House Committee on Education, denouncing the lack of transparency regarding textbook prices and pushing for passage of House Bill 2919. , legislation that would require public colleges and universities to inform students of these costs before enrollment.
“This bill would allow students to better plan for their graduate studies,” Meloy said during testimony before the committee. “These hidden charges are a matter of fairness.”
In June, Governor Kate Brown enacted the legislation. Now, public institutions in Oregon will be required to “prominently display” at least 75% of the estimated cost of credited course materials at the time students register for classes, starting in the 2022-2023 school year. .
Meloy, now the University of Oregon’s junior and senatorial vice president of student associates, said she was happy the law was passed and hopes it will ease some of the financial burden on students.
“Much of my support for this bill was hoping that if all textbooks and fees were to be transparent, it would help teachers choose lower-cost textbooks and also provide an incentive to make courses more accessible,” Meloy said. .
A spokesperson for the University of Oregon said the institution is working on updating its website to ensure compliance with the law by next fall.
The Association of American Publishers, which represents publishers of books, journals and education in the United States, welcomed the news.
“The AAP supports legislation like this because we believe that students benefit from the clarity and visibility of colleges regarding costs, and because we are deeply committed to the affordability of course materials,” said Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of AAP, said in a statement.
On average, students spent $ 186 each on textbooks and course materials in fall 2020, up from $ 199 the previous fall, according to data from research firm Student Monitor.
“Affordability has been a priority for higher education publishers,” and students are spending less on textbooks due to digital offerings, the Pallante statement said. However, some critics of digital textbooks claim that digital offerings and Netflix-style subscription services are strengthening publishers’ stranglehold on the market.
Since the mid-2010s, major education publishers, including Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill Education, have reported steady growth in “inclusive access” textbook programs. Many institutions are now enrolling entire classes of students to automatically receive digital course materials at a discounted rate, rather than purchasing them individually. Cengage, a global education technology company, pivoted to a subscription model called Cengage Unlimited in 2018, saying its top priority was affordability for students.
“We heard loud and clear that the biggest issue was affordability of course materials,” said Kristina Massari, Cengage’s director of public relations and media. “You can have the best materials in the world. But if the students can’t afford to buy them, then you’re not really helping anyone.
With Cengage Unlimited, students can have instant access to electronic textbooks for four months with a flat fee. Nhaim Khoury, senior vice president of strategy and finance for US higher education at Cengage, said students were “very happy” with Cengage’s subscription service due to access to textbooks and other materials. courses.
“There are students who are accessing a lot of resources at the same time,” Khoury said. “On top of that, there are study tools, so they can have flash cards and career advice also within the platform.”
To help ease financial pressures on students, some universities have said they will provide free textbooks and other course materials. North Carolina A&T State University announced in June that it was using federal stimulus funds to purchase all course materials for undergraduates.
For Oregon, the new textbook law is part of a larger initiative to make higher education costs more transparent to students. In June, Brown signed HB 2542, a law that will require public colleges and universities to “prominently display” the cost and description of compulsory tuition fees. The law comes into force for this academic year. A spokesperson for the University of Oregon said the institution would comply with the legislation by September 1.
Meloy sees the Textbook Act as an important first step in reducing hidden costs for students in public institutions.
“This is just a stepping stone to making higher education in Oregon more affordable, but I think it’s on the right track now,” she said. “For students who are continuing their education, it will help us plan financially so that we don’t have to pay a $ 400 textbook fee that we didn’t expect after already paying the tuition, fees and trying. to pay the rent. “