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James V. Koch, president emeritus and Board of Visitors Professor of Economics at Old Dominion University, recently testified to the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance on his findings in a study of college text book pricing.

Koch was retained by the committee to complete a one-year study on the cost of college textbooks, the impact of costs on students and options to make textbooks more affordable. The advisory committee will report to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce by May 2007.

During his testimony at the Sept. 19 hearing, Koch outlined his proposal for the study design, explained the underlying issues of textbook costs, and offered suggestions for policy options and paths for action.

Koch noted that textbook prices rose at six percent per year from 1986 to 2004, even though the Consumer Price Index rose only about 3 percent annually over the same time period.

One factor in the rising costs of textbooks is that most faculty, who are responsible for choosing the textbooks students must purchase, don't know how much textbooks cost and therefore don't take those prices into account when making choices. Koch likened the situation to the pharmaceutical industry, where prices are climbing somewhat as a result of doctors not knowing the costs of the drugs they prescribe.

Another aspect, according to Koch, is that five dominant publishers have 80 percent of the textbook market. While students can purchase used textbooks at greatly reduced prices, publishers -- and bookstores -- make more money on new books. Therefore new editions of textbooks come out frequently, thus rendering the used version obsolete.

Koch noted that textbook publishers have increasingly moved to textbook bundles that include the textbook and related items such as workbooks, CDs and websites. "These bundles easily can cost $150 each and the problem is students usually aren't allowed to unbundle the package and purchase only the items they want," he said.

Koch provided some price-reducing recommendations to the committee, including instituting book rental systems at universities, requiring publishers to unbundle textbook packages, requiring universities to provide all books lists on the Internet with an easy access link to used book sellers.

"Textbook costs can be reduced if institutions help students shop around," Koch said.

For more information on the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, visit http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/edlite-index.html.

This article was posted on: September 27, 2006

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