FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 14, 2005
As Students Hit Campus Bookstores, New Report Reveals Textbook Price Increase Doubles Inflation Rate – Schumer Bill Would Reduce Costs
Average College Student Will Spend At Least $898 This Year On Textbooks; New Textbook Rental Programs Could Save Students $600 Each Year
As students begin their college semesters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a new report showing required textbook prices at universities and colleges across New York have risen 14 percent since 2003. Nationally, textbook prices are increasing at more than double the rate of inflation, and four times the inflation rate for all finished goods, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index.
“Getting a college degree has not only become critical, but now it’s become backbreaking with costs going up so much,” Schumer said. “After they pay tuition, parents and students are getting slapped with shockingly high costs for textbooks in class after class, at school after school. This plan would take a very successful program which has saved families hundreds of dollars and replicate it across the country. This means real dollars and real savings for middle class families who have to beg and borrow to send their kids to college.”
Schumer today announced legislation, the Affordable Books for College Act, which will encourage the proliferation of textbook rental programs, saving average college students $600 by allowing them to borrow their books each semester for a low, flat rate. Schumer is also reintroducing his bill to allow students to deduct up to $1,000 for the cost of textbooks from their federal income taxes.
Schumer today released a school-by-school regional analysis showing how much typical college students are spending on textbooks in New York, and how much they stand to save if the rental program is universally adopted:
- The average freshman in the Capital Region could pay $1,073 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $32.1 million.
- The average freshman in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area could pay $963 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $51.3 million.
- The average freshman in Central New York could pay $1034 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs they could save $34.2 million.
- The average freshman in the Hudson Valley could pay $1,112 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $62 million.
- The average freshman in the North Country could pay $1038 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $17.7 million.
- The average freshman in the Southern Tier could pay $1193 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $22.9 million.
- The average freshman in Western New York could pay $1031 for textbooks; if every school adopted rental programs, students could save $45.8 million.
The Affordable Books for College Act will help students pay for textbooks by establishing more rental programs, which would provide meaningful savings to college students by allowing them to borrow their books each semester for a low, flat rate. Specifically, Schumer’s bill (S. 1384) will establish:
- Feasibility Study Grants: Education Department shall award grants to colleges to conduct feasibility studies because not all colleges are good candidates for rental programs. Successful rental programs also have the support of all players on campus, including students, faculty, bookstore owners, and administrators. Performing the feasibility study will allow schools to determine whether the size and type of their classes are well-suited for rental programs, and if sufficient support exists in the community to ensure a viable program.
- Low-Interest Loans: Education Department shall award low-interest loans to successful applicants, including colleges and bookstores. Funds may be used to purchase course materials, necessary equipment or software, staff, and storage space for expanded inventory. The most significant barrier to new rental programs tends to be the up-front costs associated with purchasing several semesters worth of course materials at one time, and expanding existing storage space. Although rental programs ultimately break even or run small profits, they need help with the initial capital investment.
- Models for Best Practices: Education Department shall develop and make available a document describing best practices for colleges that are designing new rental programs.
- Assessment Study: Education Department shall conduct a study on the savings achieved by students enrolled in rental programs.
In the last two decades, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation but have followed close behind tuition increases. According to a recent report from the Government Accounting Office, textbook prices nearly tripled from December 1986 to December 2004, while tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall inflation was 72 percent. The cost of textbooks and supplies as a percentage of tuition and fees for full-time, degree-seeking students is 72 percent at 2-year public institutions, 26 percent at 4-year public institutions, and 8 percent for 4-year private institutions.
Schumer today also urged the Department of Education to work with schools and book publishers to find incentives to lower book costs. Specifically, Schumer proposed that the Department look into:
- Guaranteeing textbooks are available for free in libraries B most schools make at least some required texts available in the reserved sections of the school libraries so students can do their reading without having to buy expensive texts. With higher textbook prices forcing more students to rely on libraries, Schumer asked the Department to look into having schools guarantee that all required textbooks are available from campus libraries B and there are enough copies for students to have a reasonable expectation of completing their reading.
- Ensuring students can buy only the texts they need for classes without being forced to purchase unneeded extras as part of a "bundle." Often, students can find cheaper alternatives for some of the required texts on websites like www.amazon.com, www.half.com, or www.dogears.net. Unfortunately, because some required books are only sold "bundled" in a single package with other books, study guides, CD ROMs, or other supplements, students are forced to purchase the entire package and can't comparison shop for individual pieces. Schumer urged the Department to look into encouraging schools and publishers to sell materials separately so students can bargain-shop for some texts and purchase others new.
- Guarding against professors who take advantage of students by assigning books they wrote. One of college students' biggest complaints about paying for college textbooks is when a professor assigns a book written by that professor or a colleague. While Schumer said colleges and universities often boast many scholars who are experts in their fields and who have written defining works in their subjects B making their books the best choices for required reading. Rather than prohibit professors from assigning works they wrote, Schumer urged the Department to set up a panel to examine egregious cases in which professors appear to be taking advantage of students in this way.
- Ensuring that "new" editions of textbooks are truly warranted. An alternative approach may be for publishers to offer annual supplements to allow students to use old books from a previous year while still having updated information.
- Publishing books online to eliminate the costs associated with printing hard copies.
The rental program is already piloted at several universities throughout the country. The rental service at Eastern Illinois University was established decades ago and served 11,651 students in 2004. Textbooks are labeled and entered into the student textbook database when issued. Students pick up and return the books at the beginning and end of each semester. Students are asked to highlight and mark in the books sparingly. During designated periods in the academic year, students may purchase their textbooks with rental fees credited toward the purchase price. The service operates on a self-sustaining basis with cash reserves if a particular year’s costs exceed budgeted estimates.
Schumer today also announced he would reintroduce his legislation to deduct up to $1,000 for the cost of textbooks from their federal income taxes. This new tax deduction is modeled on the new federal College Tuition Tax Deduction, which was originally part of Schumer's Make College Affordable Act. Beginning in April 2003, New Yorkers were able to deduct up to $3,000 in college tuition costs on their federal taxes for the first time. This tuition tax deduction increased to $4,000 last year.
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