NMU Complies with Textbook Provisions

Effective July 1, universities must implement provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 designed to increase transparency and accountability related to textbook costs. The NMU Bookstore has already begun to link its online textbook inventory system with online registration so students will have access to the most up-to-date information when they sign up for classes.

The law states that universities, “to the maximum extent practicable,” include the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), title, author and retail price of all required and optional materials as part of the online course schedule. If that information is unavailable, it must be listed as “To Be Determined.”

Complying with the disclosure requirements can be a challenge in the spring, when registration and the April 1 textbook order deadline occur so far in advance of the fall semester. It can also be difficult for academic departments that have unassigned sections, faculty openings or other planning issues that prevent them from making firm decisions on course materials.

“Last year, there were more than 100 changes in August alone in terms of books used for the fall semester,” said Paul Wright (Bookstore). “There are a variety of reasons for that—sometimes faculty members change their minds. That’s why we made sure to include a disclaimer page when students enter the textbook site. It basically states that these are the books requested as of right now. We can’t guarantee they will be the same books used in the fall.

“Some students will look at the list and purchase the material online or at another retailer. But if things change, they’re stuck trying to resell the books. There’s a risk associated with acting on the information too early. If they buy books from our store and something changes, we’ll give them a refund. The law is going to affect our sales, but we don’t know to what extent yet. We’re concerned how students might be affected with this customer service issue.”

According to Susan Koch (Academic Affairs),  the increasing cost of textbooks has been a concern of faculty and academic administrators for several years. "Faculty are being informed of this new provision and are being encouraged to meet the April 1 textbook deadline in order to assist students in planning ahead for this significant educational expense," she added.

Because the goal is to help students save money on textbooks and plan ahead for expenses, the law also focuses on publishers. According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, the main factor in textbook prices increasing almost three-fold between 1986 and 2004 was the practice of “bundling” books with CD-ROMs and other supplements.

Publishers must provide the following information to faculty in charge of material selection: textbook price; copyright dates of the three previous editions, if applicable; a description of “substantial content revisions”; availability and price of other formats of the text; and the price of the book unbundled from supplemented material.


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Updated: March 25, 2010

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