Faculty senate mulls options for cutting students’ textbook expense


BG Independent News

The Bowling Green State University heard about many ways to reduce the cost of textbooks on Tuesday.

When it came time to approve a resolution that called for formulating a plan by May, 2017, that would cut costs in half, the senate balked.

Not that the senators weren’t behind cutting textbook costs. Rather they were concerned about committing to that specific target before the issue had been studied, as well as for procedural reasons.

Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature have been pushing for reductions on the price of textbooks as part of efforts to reduce the cost of higher education for students. This concern comes at a time when the trend has been a significant decrease in state support for higher education. Universities did receive a modest increase in funding in the most recent budget.

Before considering the resolution titled “To Lead Ohio Higher Education in Textbook Cost Reduction,” the senate heard from a panel about what is being done to control the cost of textbooks.

Provost Rodney Rogers said that after the major expenses of tuition, fees, room and board are paid, students and their parents are then confronted with “additional costs that are pretty significant and sometimes it surprises families.”

Jeff Nelson, the manager of the University bookstore, said that the timing of when professors decide what materials they will use is key. The earlier, the better, he said.

Through BGSU Choose, price comparison software, the bookstore gives students information on what books and materials cost at the bookstore and at 12 other national vendors, including Amazon.

As soon as the bookstore knows what books will be required it can do the research, he said. The system also “gives us a lot of data and analytics.” Sometimes that information leads the bookstore to discount the price of some textbooks.

He said that 85 percent of students who use BGSU Choose end up buying something from the bookstore.

Nelson also said that if the bookstore knows before finals week that a text will be required the next semester, a student will get twice as much when selling their copy of that text.

The bookstore, he said, was working on making texts in all forms, new, used, rental and online, available to students.

Colleen Boff, associate dean of Universities Libraries, said, that the library had piloted a program where certain texts in high demand are available at the reserve desks. The library spent $5,000 on texts for 42 high enrollment, high cost courses, and plans to add to that collection. Faculty also always have the option of placing desk copies of their texts on reserve, she said.

OhioLINK, a system through which college libraries share resources, is looking at making more texts available. Because OhioLINK is so established, it is negotiating directly with the State of Ohio and publishers.

Library staff are available, she said, to help students and faculty locate exactly what they are looking for on OhioLINK. She suggested that it would help students if professors made it clear whether “a slightly older” edition of a textbook would be acceptable.

Boff said the University Library is also involved with open source materials, making them available and bringing training in to help faculty develop their own open source materials.

Members of the Senate Executive Committee presented the resolution that would establish an ad hoc committee charged with reporting back to the senate in 90 days with the goal of finalizing any plan by the end of the spring semester.

Julie Haught asked why the resolution specified a 50-percent reduction.

Ken Borland, who was one of those presenting the resolution, said the figure was “aspirational,” and wasn’t backed by data.

Rebecca Mancuso suggested changing the “50 percent” to “significant.”

Jane Wheeler, of the SEC, said the committee “wanted to make a bold statement.”  The vote to put forward the resolution was close, she said.

Stephanie Walls, an SEC member, said that it’s clear that the governor is intent on reducing textbook costs. She sees the 50-percent cut as a compromise with a more extreme proposal that could come out of Columbus.

Other faculty wondered why the resolution was proposed at all. Jim Evans said that the SEC doesn’t need senate approval to appoint an ad hoc committee.

Walls said the committee was looking for a unified voice of support from the senate.

Juan Bouzat wondered whether some of the issues contained in the resolution were business decisions, and beyond the ken of faculty.

Joseph Robertshaw, who represents graduate senate, said he was in favor of the move to cut textbook prices. Action needs to be taken, he said.

The senate tabled the resolution on a near unanimous voice vote.