- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

College textbook prices have increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation since 1994, prompting students to pay an average of $900 per academic year, according to a new report.

The study, conducted by the State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), found that wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have increased 62 percent in the past 10 years, although adjustments to the books have been minor or nonexistent.

“This report shows that publishers use needless new editions and gimmicks to drive up the cost of textbooks,” said Luke Swarthout, a higher education associate for State PIRGs. “The losers in this scam are students, who will have a harder time paying for college.”

The report, which was released Tuesday, said the most common reason for price increases is the publication of new editions with minor changes. A new edition costs 45 percent more on average than a used copy of an older version.

Another reason is “bundling,” the publishing practice of creating book packages with “unnecessary bells and whistles,” such as CD-ROMS and workbooks. Bundled texts cost students as much as 47 percent more, the report said.

Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers, said she is concerned that the PIRGs are failing to focus on the real needs of college students today.

“Professors and publishers are creating the tools, the textbooks and other instructional materials that are helping students improve their college success rates,” she said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said that as a parent of a college student and as a lawmaker he is concerned that parents and students are getting slapped with “shockingly high costs” for textbooks.

“In today’s America, getting a college degree is as vital as having air to breathe. But with costs going up as much as they have, the cost of getting that degree is backbreaking, and it’s only getting worse,” he said.

To help students and parents cope with the skyrocketing costs of textbooks, Mr. Schumer said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow a $1,000 deduction from federal income taxes for the cost of textbooks. The credit would be available for single tax filers with income up to $65,000 and joint filers with income up to $130,000.

“For the first time ever, this proposal would let parents or students deduct the cost of their books from their taxes,” Mr. Schumer said. “This means real dollars and real savings for middle-class families who have to beg and borrow to send their kids to college.”

The study examined the cost of textbooks at 59 universities, including Miami University, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University at San Marcos.

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