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September 07, 2007 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-07

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

From page 1
lation was after she was required
to buy a$150 statistics textbook her
senior year as a student at Puget
Sound University. At the time,
Allen was working for WashPIRG,
the state of Washington's student
She joined the national group
after graduating last year and
beganworkingtopromote textbook
reform in the Washington state
legislature. Washington lawmak-
ers passed two bills this year aimed
at reducing the impact of textbook
prices on students. One requires
textbook publishers to include the
wholesale price and revision his-
tory when they give information
to faculty, while the other requires
colleges to strengthen buyback
policies at bookstores, encourage
faculty to think about price when
picking books and develop rules
about textbook bundling. A third
bill, aimed at eliminating the sales
tax for textbooks, workbooks and
course software, died in commit-
Allen said textbook prices have
the textbook market doesn't func-
tion like a normal commodity mar-
"What it comes down to is that
students have no power in this
market," Allen said. "They can't
tell their professor 'I'm not willing
to buy the book for this class - it's
too expensive."'
The most popular of all state and
federal efforts to curb textbook
prices have been proposals to elim-
inate the sales tax on textbooks.
According to the NACS database,
eighteen states have exempted
textbooks from sales tax, while five
more don't have a sales tax in the
first place. The legislatures of only
three states - Wyoming, Colorado
and Idaho - haven't considered
tax-exemption legislation in the
last eight years.
The issue gained some momen-
tum in Michigan in January 2006
when State Rep. John Stakoe (R-
Highland Township) sponsored a
bill that would have exempted all
college textbooks from the state
sales tax.
After that bill failed in the House
Committee on Tax Policy, Stakoe
proposed another bill in August
2006 that would have provided
a tax credit for college textbooks
once the student passes the class.
That bill also failed.

According to Student Monitor,a market research company that studies college students, the
average student spent $671 on textbooks duringthe last academic year.
The price ofttextbooks increased by 109 percent between1987 and 2004, according to a
study conducted by the College Board. In comparison, the Consumer Price Index - a measure
of the prices oftconsumer goods - increased by 65 percent over the same period ofttime.
Publishers point out that the cost ofttextbooks has risen far slower than the cost ofttuition
and fees, which accordingto the College Board study grew by about 180 percent between
1987 and 2004. Bruce Hildebrand, executive directorfor higher education at the Association of
American Publishers, said students respond emotionally to textbook prices eventhough rising
tuition and fees are responsible for most oftthe added burden on students.
"Students argue that it's unfair -'I paid my tuition, I paid myfees, I paid my room, my
board, my car, my iPod, everything that's going in my room, it's not fair that I have to buy text-
books,"' Hildebrand said. "Pardon me, why did you go to college?"

Stakoe said he was concerned
about the costof a college education
and wanted to reduce the burden of
textbook prices on students, even if
he can't change the way the market
works. But the state's struggling
economy and unbalanced budget
made other politicians reluctant to
support tax credits or exemptions,
he said.
Freeing textbooks from the sales
tax would cost the state about $25
million each year, Stakoe said.
"It's not an insurmountable
amount of money to find, but I
haven't been able to get support,"
Stakoe said. "The governor has
made it a paramount issue to have
more students attend four-year
universities in this state. How
important is it when the governor
can't even find room for a $25-mil-
lion tax credit in a $41-billion bud-
While eliminating the sales tax
on textbooks would save the aver-
age college student about $50 per
year, it doesn't get to the root of
the problem, Allen said. She said
she supports pieces of legislation
that will change the way publish-
ers market textbooks and the way
professors select them.
That might mean requiring pro-
fessors to release book lists early,
which University President Mary
Sue Coleman said is the best way
to make textbooks affordable for
Several states have passed leg-
islation requiring college faculty
to release book lists a certain num-
ber of days before beginning of the
term. While the Michigan legisla-
ture hasn't considered such a bill,
the University has begun to devel-
op a program to facilitate the early
release of book lists and hopes to
launch it next year.
Coleman said she was wary
of legislation that attempts to
regulate the textbook industry,
Some states have passed legis-
lation requiring that colleges urge

faculty to take price into account
when selecting textbooks. Others
have passed bills requiring pub-
lishers to include the price and
revision history of their textbooks
when they send information to
While Allen said those laws
would encourage transparency
while saving time and effort for
professors, some professors say it's
not necessary.
Pediatrics Prof. Charles Koop-
mann, a former chair of the Senate
Assembly Committee on Univer-
sity Affairs - the University's fac-
ulty governing body - said the bills
aren't needed.
"I do not think that legislators
need to be involved here," Koop-
mann wrote in an e-mail inter-
Bruce Hildebrand, executive
director for higher education
at the Association of American
Publishers, said requiring that
publishers to provide price and
revision histories to profes-
sors won't help since professors
already have access to that infor-
mation and choose their books
primarily based on educational
quality - not on price.
"That's what we try to explain
to legislators, but it's a highly
emotional issue and they've been
misled by some of the lobbyists,"
Hildebrand said.
Legislators in other states have
proposed more extreme solu-
tions to the textbook problem. In
Texas, State Rep. Hubert Vo pro-
posed a bill that would prohibit
professors from using textbooks
published within the last three
years unless it would be cheaper
or an older textbook wouldn't do
the job.
Coleman said it's up to faculty
and students to make textbook
prices manageable.
"Regulating markets in the
society that we live in is very prob-
lematic," Coleman said. "Trying
to create laws to control prices? I
don't think that's been productive

From page 1
the rankings in a recent interview.
She said she doesn't think there's
much of a difference between the
highest-ranked school and the
20th-ranked school, for example.
"The U.S. News can change the
weight they put on the parameters
and get dramatically different
results," she said. "I think a belief
that somehow there's a huge dif-
ference among top schools in the
rankings is just a fallacy."
The University of Michigan
ranked seventh in the magazine's
first set ofcollege rankings in 1983.
Itremained inthe top10 until 1989,
when the magazine made a major
change to its weighting system,
and it fell to 25th. This year, the
University of Michigan is ranked
24th and is tied with the Universi-
ty of California at Los Angeles for
third among public universities
behind the University of Califor-
nia at Berkeley and the University
of Virginia.
Coleman said the University of
Michigan has no plans to stop par-
ticipating in the survey, though.
One reason is that the Uni-
versity is public and is therefore
subject to public record laws. She
said it would be antagonistic not
to hand over the data because the
magazine could file a Freedom of
Information Act request to obtain
it anyway.
Coleman said another reason is
that the rankings draw attention
to some of the University's advan-
tages like its strong undergradu-
ate research programs.
Some opponents oftherankings
say the methodology can't accu-
rately determine which schools
are better because it doesn't mea-
sure personal preferences like
location or campus type.
Others say the system favors
private universities over public
onesbecause statistics like endow-
ment and class size are two of the
most heavily weighted criteria.
The first 19 schools in the 2008
rankings are private.
Sarah Lawrence spokeswoman

Judith Schwartzstein said the
college won't participate in the
rankings after this year partly
because they use SAT scores as an
indicator of the quality of a school.
Because Sarah Lawrence doesn't
require SAT scores, it can't pro-
vide that information - and may
suffer from it in the rankings, she
"We think it's flawed," she said.
"Schools are very complex and
this does not allow for a complex
University of Illinois spokes-
woman Robin Kaler said the
school will continue to participate
in the U.S. News survey as long as
its competitors continue provid-
ing information. She said school
officials worry that students look-
ing at the rankings would assume
Illinois wasn't good enough to be
ranked if it were missing from the
But Kaler said the system is too
subjective because the most heav-
ily weighted element of the rank-
ing system is a rating by faculty
from peer institutions.
"It's a popularity contest," she
said. "It's not scientific."
To many students trying to pick
among the nation's thousands of
colleges, though, the rankings are
When LSA freshman Justin
Simpson decided to attend the
University, his decision was based
on the University's location, cost
and campus size. The University's
reputation was also a factor, he
Simpson said he consulted U.S.
News and World Report's annual
college rankings at the begin-
ning of his college search, paying
close attention to how the maga-
zine ranked the University's Ross
School of Business and the College
of Engineering, he said.
Simpson said that although
choosing a college is ultimately
based on individual preferences,
he thinks the ranking system
plays a role in many students' col-
lege searches.
"People like facts," he said.
"They like to know the basis for
what's better."

Friday, September 7, 2007 - 7
From page 1
ment that he considers the bill the
largest higher education overhaul
since the G.I. Bill, which guaranteed
free college tuition for veterans of
World War II.
Loans are the deciding factor for
many students when deciding where
or what to study.
Engineering freshman Teresa
Dennis said she wanted to major
in art but decided on engineer-
ing, which she thinks will be more
lucrative. With a heavy load of stu-
dent debt, an engineering degree
simply sounds more practical to
many students who require finan-
cial aid.
Dennis said increasing Pell
Grants and setting limits on how
quickly students must repay their
loans is a positive step because
it will eliminate stress for stu-
"It's really great that they made it
easier for students to get loans," she
said. "They'll be able to concentrate
more on their schoolwork and less
about the stress of having money."
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