Bill attempts to increase affordability of textbooks

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Bookstore representatives and a UT student testified before the House Higher Education Committee on Wednesday in support of a bill that would make college and university textbooks more affordable. Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, authored the bill, which would require colleges and universities to directly inform students of textbook-purchasing resources other than the university’s bookstore, require professors to use all materials students purchase and require universities to post all booklists early enough for students to explore alternatives. “There are many, many students who don’t understand [the options], particularly first-generation college students,” Branch said. Branch said the bill would also aim to increase the affordability of student textbooks by supporting the use of alternative textbook options, such as used, paperback and online versions of textbooks, as well as ensuring professors use all assigned material. “Sometimes, you’ll go the whole semester and hardly use the book,” Branch said. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said he doesn’t understand why the bill encourages schools to inform students of alternative book purchasing options specifically, although he does support lowering the cost of higher education in general. “I see the spirit of the bill,” Castro said. “They are not obligated to promote Burger King, Jack in the Box or McDonalds in lieu of their cafeteria — why the distinction of books?” Stephanie Gibson, a representative of several bookstores, said she hopes the bill will not encourage universities to promote certain retailers over others in the community. “We want to ensure the most fair, educated business environment in which textbook costs are low, but also we want to address the issue of allowing businesses to thrive, especially in today’s economic environment,” Gibson said. Marc Eckhart, a regional Barnes & Noble manager, said it offers textbooks in multiple formats and makes the process of acquiring them as easy and transparent as possible. Eckhart said a section of the bill that limits the posting of course-required textbooks each semester to colleges and universities undermines the work many bookstores already do to gather and distribute the information themselves. “The bill as it is currently written could cause colleges and universities to spend their time, money and resources to duplicate a process of gathering and posting the information that already exists,” Eckhart said. Alex Jones, who recently won a seat on the University Co-op Board of Directors, said he hopes the bill will pass to make the process of book buying cheaper. “The innovative efforts to make course material transparent and available to students earlier allows us to explore options and ultimately purchase cheaper, used material, which costs on average 45 percent less than new,” Jones said.