University of Central Oklahoma freshman Thomas Harrold received his first economics lesson last week. The finance major shopped at the campus bookstore for textbooks he'll need when classes start Monday. "It's not like high school, where the books are free,” he said, estimating he'll spend up to $500 on books unless he can find some online or used. As the fall semester begins, so does the book-buying. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that a typical college student spends an average $900 a year on instructional supplies. Students like Harrold say they are relying more on online purchases of new and used books, swapping books with other students and sharing texts. Pressure from legislators and State Regents has Oklahoma colleges and universities looking for new ways to reign in student costs.
What the law saysA higher education bill passed this year says: • Universities must unbundle book packages so that students can choose whether to buy study guides, computer discs and other supplemental items often packaged with the assigned textbook. • Publishers must let faculty know how much textbooks cost and how new editions vary from previous ones. • Campus employees are prohibited from accepting payment or inducement for assigning a specific textbook. Campuses across the state have announced other efforts to reduce costs, including establishing grant programs to help students buy books, stocking more used books and using electronic versions as they come on the market.
What schools are doing• The University of Oklahoma library now stocks several books each for 250 general education classes. They can be reserved and read in the library. Department leaders must approve all textbook orders and faculty members are encouraged to require only those books that will be used extensively in the course. • The University of Central Oklahoma is continuing a program that gives no-interest loans to students who need to buy books but haven't yet received their financial aid. President Roger Webb said some students went weeks without books before their aid was processed. No students have defaulted on the bridge loan program. "We don't lose a dollar on that,” he said. • Oklahoma State University faculty members soon will be required to post textbook titles online as soon as orders are made. That gives students have more time to shop around for deals. Faculty members also are asked to use older, used editions when possible. • At Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, many lab courses are forgoing published lab manuals and using professor-developed handouts instead. Students are encouraged to share books in some business courses, and some nursing classes are using professional Web sites in lieu of texts. • The privately run bookstore at Redlands Community College buys back books all year, not just at the end of the semester. The store also has access to more used books because the company, Follett, contracts at many campuses.
Publishers' responseAccording to the Association of American Publishers: •The changing needs of instructors and student preference are driving the development, and cost, of new textbooks and learning tools. •Publishers offer more choices for low-cost texts, including customized versions. •College students spend more on electronics, cell phones, dorm decor and their cars than they do on textbooks.