A proposal in the state Legislature would allow students to see how much textbooks for a given course would cost before they enroll — at least for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
Although the University of Minnesota isn’t included in the measure, University student government representatives hope to meet with University administration to ask that a similar policy be implemented.
The bill would require MnSCU schools to make the prices of textbooks available in course catalogs. Proponents argue this would allow students to choose between similar classes with different texts, shop around for the best deals or better budget their money for textbooks.
The bill’s author, Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, said current laws require publishers to provide information about custom textbooks to faculty but don’t address how that information is passed along to students.
“What my bill does is try to provide this information that already exists … and get it to students hopefully at a time where they have a chance to look at all of the alternatives they have to get that textbook at the lowest price possible,” Banaian said.
The proposal could eventually be included as part of a larger higher education omnibus bill.
Banaian’s bill would also force faculty to provide textbook information to campus bookstores 45 days before the start of the term, rather than the 30 days currently required. Bookstores would be required to display what books students will need for a class 30 days before the start of the term rather than the current 15-day requirement.
Earlier notice would give students more time to find the same book cheaper than from the campus bookstore, Banaian said.
“If you think of the bookstore being the convenience store near your house, you want the opportunity to instead go and buy a gallon of milk at the big supermarket where it’s cheaper,” Banaian said.
The University has been looking into the proposal and met with the authors of the bill in both the House and the Senate, but certain factors would make the bill’s requirements difficult to meet, University spokesman Jeff Falk wrote in an email.
Among the University’s concerns is that requiring instructors to provide course materials earlier could prevent them from using the latest research and information in their classes if it’s not available 45 days before the start of the semester, Falk said.
The University also questions whether book information and costs simply aren’t needed that early.
“Data shows that most students purchase books beginning three weeks before the semester starts, therefore minimizing the impact of a 45-day requirement,” Falk wrote.
In some cases, students register for courses before an instructor has been assigned to teach it, which would make it difficult for textbook information to be available in the course catalogue.
“Sometimes you simply don’t know who’s teaching the class until maybe two weeks before the course starts because that faculty member who was supposed to teach the class all of a sudden gets the opportunity to take leave,” Banaian said, acknowledging the administration’s concerns.
University student Christopher Tastad, chairman of the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition, testified in support of the legislation at a hearing last week. Despite the possible difficulties to the University of providing this information earlier, Tastad thinks University students would benefit from the requirements.
“I would say the instances where you’re running into an inability to assign a textbook are going to be less frequent than the instances where it would be within reason to make sure that information is provided to students,” he said.
The option to see what textbooks would cost before registering for classes was appealing to some University students.
“I think it will be good for students, especially in terms of [general education requirements], because we are on a tight budget, and it can help students decide what kind of classes they want to take,” journalism student Shannon Corrigan said.
Sophomore Tessa Lee agreed that knowing what to expect for textbook costs could help with financial planning.
“If you know you have to take a class with an expensive book, you’re like, ‘Well, there goes next month’s rent,’” she said.
Freshman Katherine Brauer said that since most of her classes are required, she didn’t have the option to choose classes based on textbook prices, but that the proposal could have a negative impact for some students.
“I think it might scare people away from classes rather than help them choose the ones they want to take,” she said.
Freshman Luke Myer agreed that the measure might keep some people from signing up for classes with outrageously priced books if they have the option. But that might not always be a choice.
“If the textbook is expensive and you need the class,” he said, “you just deal with it.”