New textbook law gives students more pricing information

open textbook on pile of textbooksUniversity students around the country have already filed back into their classrooms and have purchased their expensive textbooks. But there's a new federal policy regarding the prices of textbooks, and how students should know the prices for all their textbooks.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act Textbook Provision, which went into effect on July 1, allows for some transparency in textbook purchasing by allowing students to know textbook prices in advance and to search for better prices.

There are a couple key textbook provisions, but one of the major ones is that an institution of higher education must disclose the textbooks International Standard Book Number, also known as the ISBN, as well as the prices of the textbooks to students in some way.

As written in the provision, the institution must "(1) disclose, on the institution's Internet course schedule and in a manner of the institution's choosing, the International Standard Book Number and retail price information of required and recommended college textbooks and supplemental materials for each course listed in the institution's course schedule used for preregistration and registration purposes ..."

According to the provision, the institution must include the author, title, publisher and copyright date for any college textbooks or supplemental materials that don't have an ISBN available.

If not in compliance with these provisions, the Secretary of Education is authorized to take administrative action, which include fines, against institutions, according to the Office of the General Counsel.

There are provisions for publishers and college bookstores as well. Publishers must provide to the professor or entity that purchases the textbooks pricing information, which means the price it will be made available to a college bookstore, the copyright dates of the three previous editions, descriptions of substantial content revisions in newer editions and whether a college textbook is made available in other formats.

Institutions must also make available to college bookstores, or bookstores in relationship with an institution of higher education, the institution's course schedule, the number of students enrolled in any given class and number of maximum student enrollment in any given class.

San Jose State University is one college that is in compliance with the provisions. On SJSU's online student portal, MySJSU, students can view the entire course schedule for the semester and view textbook information for each course. The portal is linked to SJSU's student bookstore and allows students to see the ISBN and both new and used prices for textbooks.

According to Pat Lopes Harris, director of media relations for SJSU, the system is constantly updated as long as professors submit their textbook requests to the university bookstore, called Spartan Bookstore. The information is hard to find though, and not immediately evident unless one is adding classes.

SJSU student Ryan Serene said he didn't know of the provisions and had never seen textbook pricing information on SJSU's website.

"I have not, I mean I have seen the ISBN numbers on the bookstore website itself, but a lot of the time you don't see the pricing until right before class starts," Serene said.
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