Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

College Textbook Prices Focus of Congressional Advisory Committee Hearing: GAO Report Finds Book Prices Have Tripled over Past 20 Years

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

College Textbook Prices Focus of Congressional Advisory Committee Hearing: GAO Report Finds Book Prices Have Tripled over Past 20 Years

Article excerpt

With many low-income students already struggling to pay for higher education, a federal advisory committee has opened an investigation into the rising costs of college textbooks and its effect on college affordability.

In mid-December, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance conducted its first regional hearing on the subject, which followed a report showing that book prices have nearly tripled in the past 20 years. That report, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, also says textbooks are a significant cost for all students, particularly those attending lower-cost institutions. At community colleges, textbook costs represent about 72 percent of overall tuition and fees.

"I have received more communication in my office on this problem than any other education topic" says U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who asked for the investigation. Coupled with stagnant federal financial aid, this trend threatens to deny students access to college, he says.

Overall, textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of general inflation since 1986, according to GAO.

"Every year that the cost of textbooks doubles compared to the overall average of prices is another year students experience an even greater barrier to a college degree;' says Wu.

While price increases affect all students, many acknowledge it is low-income students who face the greatest challenges. "These are the kids hardest hit by high prices," says Erin Renner, a spokeswoman for the advisory committee.

The committee held a hearing Dec. 18 in Chicago to gather input from publishers, students and other groups. Additional hearings are likely by spring in California and Oregon, says Renner.

The advisory committee is a permanent government agency created by Congress to provide advice on financial aid issues. It frequently focuses on issues affecting lower-income students, including access to traditional financial aid. The panel must provide a report to Congress by May 2007.

In its report, "College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases," GAO found textbook prices represented a significant cost compared with other expenses. Textbooks account for nearly three-fourths of community college costs and represent about 26 percent of tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities, the agency says.

The GAO report blamed the increases in part on more frequent textbook revisions and increased production costs. …

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