The University of Arkansas Community College at Hope has struck a blow at rising student textbook costs which may save the UACCH student body over $100,000 next year.

The University of Arkansas Community College at Hope has struck a blow at rising student textbook costs which may save the UACCH student body over $100,000 next year.

UACCH Vice Chancellor for Academics Dr. Jennifer Methvin led the initiative which challenged college faculty to find ways to reduce textbook costs and create viable alternatives.

As a result, UACCH faculty members developed 11 changes in textbook adoptions that will eliminate $1,215 in textbook costs for those courses, Dr. Methvin said.

Examples which will be reflected in 2014-2015 course enrollments included the adoption of a new text for oral communications, cutting per textbook cost by $60, or $17,040 across the student body; replacement of the medical terminology course text with free and online sources at a collective savings of $10,878; and, the adoption of a new text for the world civilization course at a savings of $104 per text, or a collective savings of $17,680 across the student body.

“Over the last decade, the costs of textbooks have dramatically increased, much faster than the rate of inflation and even health care costs,” Methvin said. “We don't want the purchase of instructional materials to be a barrier for students.”

Nationally, college tuition and fee costs have grown 89 percent since 2002, while textbook costs have risen 82 percent; but, overall consumer prices have risen only 28 percent, according to a General Accounting Office study published in 2013.

“Our faculty have always been very careful about monitoring textbook costs, but in November, they began in earnest to learn about alternative ways to provide instructional materials at a savings for our students without decreasing the quality of instruction,” Methvin explained. “They have done remarkable work in this short time, and they have only just begun.”

According to the findings of the GAO study, which involved eight colleges and universities in California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Iowa, including two public two-year colleges, faculty concerns about quality and relevance, as well as the level of suitability of material were key factors in orders placed for student texts.

“Only after they have identified the most appropriate course materials will faculty consider pricing and format options, according to stakeholders,” the study concludes.

The federal Higher Education Opportunity Act requires greater transparency in pricing practices by publishers and ordering practices by college faculty. However, the GAO said that will have little direct impact upon college text costs, but concluded that the availability of the information will allow students to comparison shop.

Methvin said Thursday there is no comparable data for textbook costs at other community colleges in Arkansas.

“As you can see, our faculty are getting serious about this issue and creative about tackling it; all the while not sacrificing the quality or quantity of materials available to our students,” she said. “I assume our costs are pretty similar to other two-year institutions, but I don't have any data to back that up.”

Based upon the HEOA, publishers must now disclose to faculty members the net and retail prices, substantial revisions, prior three copyright dates, and availability and pricing of alternative formats for each text offered. Colleges, then, must provide course schedules, International Standard Book Number and retail pricing of preferred texts to college bookstores and must provide the same information to students.

Text materials which are “bundled” and include a text and related materials such as study guides, workbooks, online supplements or course-related material must now be offered to students separately where they are allowed under publishing contracts, and are not so critically interrelated to the coursework as to make them separately unusable, according to the GAO.

The GAO study also found that, in many instances, colleges and universities are now providing institutional textbook rental programs; some maintain used textbook pricing information; and, some provide information on digital alternatives.

The agency also reported that textbook rental programs are becoming more popular with campus bookstores because of discounts in pricing versus new retail prices.