GAO: Students Need More Affordable Textbook Options to Keep College Costs Low

WASHINGTON – In a new report released yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more affordable textbook options can help students keep college costs low.

“Textbook prices play a major part in the cost of a college education,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a joint statement today. “While we are pleased that publishers and schools are complying with federal transparency requirements, more needs to be done to provide more affordable textbook options. As the GAO report suggests, transparency alone isn’t enough. Students need more access to high-quality, affordable options that challenge the current price structure set by a handful of publishers.  Open Educational Resources, which include high-quality open textbooks that are free for faculty to adopt and students to use, offer a promising step forward.  With many recent technology advancements it will be important for Congress to continue to learn more about the textbook sector to ensure that there are accountability mechanisms in place to protect students and taxpayers.”

GAO found that since 2002 textbook prices have risen three times faster than inflation. According to the College Board, books and supplies now average $1,129 per year, almost 40 percent of the cost of tuition and fees for community college students. Additionally, the GAO noted that faculty are taking into consideration affordability when making decisions on the best textbook selection for their class.

In 2008, the Democratic Congress took decisive action to ensure that parents and students would have access to the information they need about the cost of college, including the cost of textbooks.  Textbook laws were established after learning of troubling practices by  the publishing industry to hide the cost of textbooks from students and faculty, create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs, and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense.  The 2008 law, among other things, included provisions backed by Senator Durbin and Representative Miller which required textbook publishers to disclose the costs of textbooks to faculty, required schools to publish textbook information in course catalogues when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials so students had choices.  The provisions took effect on July 1, 2010.

This GAO report, mandated by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), comes as the House Education and the Workforce committee takes next steps to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this summer.

Read the full GAO report.