Va. Assembly Passes Bill to Cut College Textbook Costs

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006

RICHMOND, March 8 -- The Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill to lower the cost of textbooks for college students.

The measure would require public universities to come up with guidelines encouraging professors and bookstores to slow costs, which studies have shown are rising more rapidly than inflation or tuition.

Students say textbooks are growing more expensive because manufacturers are packaging the books with an array of supplements and CDs. Textbook manufacturers and some professors say prices are rising because the quality of books and supplements is better than ever.

Prodded by Virginia21, an advocacy group for 18- to 24-year-olds, the legislature has sided with students. The House and Senate approved HB 1478, sponsored by G. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News), which requires public universities to adopt new textbook guidelines.

Kevin Hall, press secretary for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), said the governor wants to review the bill but is "generally supportive of an effort to make textbooks more affordable for students."

The new guidelines would encourage professors to limit their use of new editions of books when previous editions don't differ much. Students complain that textbook companies make minor changes to books and reissue them every few years to quash the used book market.

The guidelines would also require professors to acknowledge that they are aware of the cost of the books they assign. If faculty members do not plan to use supplements such as workbooks that are sold with texts, college bookstores would order the books and other materials separately, if cost-effective.

Students say they often encounter professors who assign books without realizing they cost more than $100 each.

"I'm paying half my tuition for books," said Pamela Ononiwu, 21, president of the student government at Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale campus. "It's an issue that needs to be addressed."

After two semesters of spending $500 on sometimes lightly used textbooks, Ononiwu said she tried something new to keep costs down this year.

She didn't buy the book for her math class. Instead, she spent weeks sharing the required text with a friend. "It was hard," Ononiwu said. "She would have a test, and I wouldn't. I would need it for homework. Of course, her test would override my using it for homework."

According to a study conducted last year by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which included a survey of 12,000 students, a semester's worth of books averaged between $300 and $400 in fall 2005.

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