Governor signs new textbook bill

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered mixed signs on his position in the debate over textbook prices, signing a bill aimed at reducing costs for students and vetoing a second proposal to institute book rental programs at the state’s universities.

    Schwarzenegger gave his stamp of approval to legislation written by Assemblywoman Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), which asks for professors to consider price in their choice of class readings.

    “While this bill does not mandate changes, it has shown textbook publishers that textbook costs are a serious concern in this state,” said Candice Chung, spokesperson for Liu. “It has brought all of the stakeholders, including publishers, to the table so that we can find workable solutions to this problem.”

    The bill advises faculty to consider the “least costly practices in assigning textbooks” and encourages them to work closely with publishers to “unbundle” books from extra, costly supplements. Although professors are being asked to consider price when selecting educational material, proponents of the bill believe it will not endanger the quality of education in California’s public colleges and universities.

    “We’re asking our professors and faculty to consider the least costly options,” Chung said. “We believe that professors will use their best judgment in determining the least costly option that will meet their academic criteria.”

    However, Schwarzenegger rejected a second bill by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) outlining a process for the state’s public universities to use in creating textbook rental services. If approved, the bill could have saved students more than 50 percent on textbook costs, Koretz estimated.

    “I support the author’s intention to lower textbook costs to college students, and am generally supportive of textbook rental programs as one means to make the overall cost of college attendance more affordable,” Schwarzenegger said in his veto message. “However, I am opposed to provisions in the bill that would allow additional fees to be assessed to all students, even those not using the program, in order to keep a textbook rental service financially self-sustaining.”

    The bills were based on recommendations in a recent report by the California Public Interest Research Group, which found that UC students spend almost $900 annually on books. The report also criticized publishers for driving up prices by packaging books with workbooks and other supplements.

    While CalPIRG expressed disappointment with the governor’s veto, the group’s Legislative Director Steve Blackledge said Schwarzenegger’s approval for the Liu bill will likely save students money.

    The new law requires the trustees of the California State University and the community college Board of Governors to work with their faculty senates to disclose textbook costs and promote alternative methods of buying materials. However, the statute only requests that the UC regents do the same.

    “Students will see noticeable results right away, but to really see some substantial savings it’s going to take some time,” Blackledge said. “It’s up in the air whether this will be enough.”

    Liu’s office has already credited the new law with the decision by publishers Pearson Education and Safari Books Online to launch a new digital publishing service that will allow students to download books at half the costs of printed editions.

    However, the proposal will offer little benefit for students of UCSD math professor David Meyer, who said that he already tries to find the most affordable readings for his classes.

    “I do consider textbook prices when I choose them,” Meyer said.

    While the Association of American Publishers did not take an official position on either bill, Executive Director for Higher Education Bruce Hilderbrand criticized the CalPIRG report as being inaccurate and said that current textbook pricing methods are fair.

    “We feel misunderstood, you might say,” he said. “We believe that we are providing incredible value for the amount of money spent on our textbook.”

    By choosing the cheapest stand-alone editions, students may lose out on valuable supplements, Hilderbrand explained.

    “These are the tools that help the professor teach and the student learn,” he said. “The textbook is [just] the tip of the iceberg.”

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