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Instructional inflation.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Let's play Jeopardy. The category is Higher Education. First clue: This college expense that begins with the letter T has climbed at twice the rate of inflation every year since 1986.

Buzz! "What is tuition?"

Correct. Second clue: This college expense that begins with the letter T has climbed at twice the rate of inflation every year since 1986.

Wait a minute. That was the first clue.

It's not a trick. Give up?

The answer is "What are text- books?"

College textbook prices are increasing an average of 6 percent a year. That's only slightly less than the increase of 7 percent a year in tuition and fees over the past two decades.

Prices for all goods have risen an average of 3 percent a year in the same time span.

The Government Accountability Office released results of a study Monday that confirm what college students and bill-paying parents have been grousing about for years - textbook costs are soaring. The GAO study, requested last year by Oregon Democratic Rep. David Wu, concludes that the book-buying burden falls heaviest on community college students.

In the 2003-04 academic year, students at public two-year institutions spent $886, an amount equal to 72 percent of their tuition and fee costs, on books and supplies. Students paying in-state tuition at public colleges spent $898, or 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees, on books and supplies.

Activists in Student Public Interest Research Groups say the GAO report confirms their charges that publishers' practices are pushing up the price of textbooks. Among the practices criticized by the Oregon and California Student PIRGs in a 2004 report:

Addition of "bundled" instructional materials such as CD-ROMS and workbooks that drive up the cost of textbooks and often aren't used by faculty in their courses.

Release of frequent new editions with few significant content changes that make less-expensive used textbooks obsolete and una- vailable.

Charging higher prices for editions sold in the United States than for the same volume sold in other countries.

The Association of American Publishers takes issue with aspects of the GAO report, particularly the price statistics.

Using an example from Oregon, an AAP official said that on average, students in Oregon's public university system spent $15,379 for their education in 2005-06, and that books and supplies accounted for about 8 percent of those costs.

After subtracting the actual cost of supplies, only about 5.6 percent of the student dollar in Oregon goes to textbooks.

For all the differing interpretations of the data, there was consensus among the publishers, PIRGs and GAO researchers about the main reason the books cost more. The GAO study noted that publishers' efforts to add technology and instructional enhancements to textbooks was the "primary factor" behind the price increases.

Anything that enhances learning is welcome, but skyrocketing costs are making it more difficult for many students, especially those from low-income families, to afford a college education.

The OSPIRG study found that 65 percent of faculty `rarely' or `never' use the extra bundled materials in their courses.

The fix is obvious: Textbook publishers need to offer faculty and students the option of buying books `a la carte' or without additional mate- rials.

Final Jeopardy clue: A standard edition text for $60; a deluxe edition for $100.

Buzz! "What is common sense?"
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; A GAO report confirms soaring college costs
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 21, 2005
Next Article:Carts before horses.

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