Making College Textbooks More Affordable

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TURN THE PAGE
MAKING COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS MORE AFFORDABLE

A REPORT OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STUDENT FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE MAY 2007

TURN THE PAGE
MAKING COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS MORE AFFORDABLE

A REPORT OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STUDENT FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE MAY 2007

ADVISING CONGRESS AND
THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
FOR NEARLY 20 YEARS

Advisory Committee on
Student Financial Assistance
80 F Street NW, Suite 413
Washington DC 20202-7582
Tel: 202/219-2099 • Fax: 202/219-3032
ACSFA@ed.gov
www.ed.gov/acsfa

The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (Advisory Committee) is a Federal advisory committee chartered by Congress, operating under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA); 5 U.S.C., App. 2). The Advisory Committee provides advice to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education on student financial aid policy. The findings and recommendations of the Advisory Committee do not represent the views of the Agency, and this document does not represent information approved or disseminated by the Department of Education.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The price of college is on nearly everyone’s mind these days. Until now, the share of family income required to pay for a four-year public college has risen significantly only for low- and moderate-income families, but there is a growing sense across the nation that a college education may be moving beyond the financial reach of many middle-income families as well. Governors, state legislatures, and college presidents feel relentless pressure to restrain increases in the price of college, especially for those students who can least afford it. Rising prices of textbooks and other learning materials – and steady increases in the total amount that students must pay for them each year – comprise just one component of the price of college, and a secondary expense for many students. But these outlays are very visible and especially frustrating to millions of students and parents. While the share of family income required to meet yearly textbook expenses has not risen much, prices are already too high for low- and moderate-income families and are pressing middle-income families as well. The resulting groundswell of criticism against colleges, bookstores, and publishers has translated into action across the nation to do something about it. The political imperative to turn the page and restrain increases in the price of textbooks – indeed, to lower them if possible – cannot be overstated. A Search for Solutions. From a policy perspective, rapid price increases and lack of affordability are best understood as symptoms of a structural imperfection in the market for textbooks and learning materials – a market driven by supply rather than demand. Faculty select textbooks from publishers, bookstores order them, and students must pay. The end consumer has no direct influence over the price, format, or quality of the product. Treating both the symptoms and the underlying cause of the problem thus requires a dual and simultaneous approach: • In the short term, steps must be taken to increase affordability for all students, but especially for those from low- and moderate-income families. • In the long term, a supply-driven, producer-centric market must be transformed into a demand-driven, college- and student-centric market. Pursuing short-term improvements in affordability without addressing the problem of market failure is likely to undermine the quality and accessibility of learning resources in the future. Today’s Solutions. The good news is that states and colleges are already taking steps to increase affordability. A variety of actions is under way across the country to lower the burden on students and parents of yearly outlays for textbooks and learning materials (Exhibit 1). These initiatives range from textbook rental programs, to the use of no-cost content whenever possible, to ensuring sufficient financial aid to cover textbook...
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