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Statement from UM President Gary Forsee on college textbooks and royalties


Christian Basi

September 19, 2008

The cost of college textbooks has been receiving national and state attention. Recent articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighting the increasing cost of college textbooks, the practice of bundling instructional materials, and a growing trend for academic departments across the country to view course materials as a revenue stream for their budget needs. These factors contribute to increased costs for students and their parents.

At the national level, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which has been signed into law, has several provisions concerning textbooks. These provisions include providing information to students on pricing in different formats, unbundling of books and supplemental materials, and providing other available information with the university schedule of courses.

The Missouri General Assembly passed and the governor signed the Textbook Transparency Act this past legislative session. This bill requires college textbook publishers to make the price of the book, any substantial content revision between the last two editions, and other information available upon request to faculty and others who select textbooks at public higher education institutions in Missouri.

The University of Missouri has long recognized that a potential conflict of interest exists for authors of textbooks. UM implemented a concise and clearly-defined conflict of interest policy during the mid-1980s. While portions of this policy have since been revised, the section that applies to textbooks and other educational materials has remained intact. The policy is addressed in Section 330.015 of the Collected Rules and Regulations and states:

Faculty-Authored Textbooks and Other Educational Materials Textbooks, tapes, software and other materials authored by the course instructor may be assigned to be purchased by students for a course taught by the author if the royalties arising from the purchase of the assigned materials are returned to the University of Missouri, another educational institution, a charitable organization, or a not-for-profit foundation. Any proceeds from other university uses of such materials, such as purchase by the library, shall be the property of the faculty member.

Faculty members, like other authors, deserve to receive royalties for their intellectual property. However, university policy on conflict of interest makes clear that faculty will not profit if they assign their own textbook as required reading for their classes. Further, if an author uses the textbook for more than one semester, the bookstore has an excellent buy-back program for students who do not wish to keep the text as reference material.

During the past academic year, the university bookstores, students, faculty and administration have worked together to develop strategies to control the cost of course materials. Strategies include communicating the importance of on-time faculty textbook orders, conducting aggressive textbook buybacks (which is dependent on faculty orders), promoting unbundling or reuse of bundles to faculty, and exploring textbook rental programs. Additional details are found in the attachment.

These collective efforts are yielding success, and we believe that continued action is necessary to help reduce the cost of education. For example, in the past year alone, University of Missouri students saved more than $7 million through used book programs. The University of Missouri System will continue to make every effort to make higher education affordable, including continued monitoring of textbook costs.


University of Missouri

  1. On-time Textbook Orders: Faculty members play a critical role in helping reduce the cost of education for their students by submitting timely textbook orders.
    • On-time orders allow the bookstore to identify more used books for future students
    • On-time orders give students more cash at buyback
    • On-time orders save freight costs
    • Late textbook orders are costly to students and the university
  2. Used Books and Strong Buyback Programs: Students save 25 percent when they have used-book options. Reuse of an old edition also increases the amount of cash that students receive at campus buyback. When faculty use the same book for consecutive semesters, campus bookstores can pay students 50 percent of the new book price at buyback regardless of the number of times the book has been used. By promoting the value of used books to faculty, as well as conducting strong textbook buyback programs, students attending universities within the UM System saved approximately $7 million last year. The following represents the breakdown:
    MU $4,603,744
    UMKC $639,294
    UMSL $1,154,324
    Missouri S&T $635,780
    Total $7,033,142
  3. Bundles: "Bundles" (traditional textbooks packaged with additional materials, such as Internet access codes, study guides, etc.) can significantly increase the cost for students. Ongoing education and communication between bookstore staff, faculty and administration has reduced the number of bundles on our campuses. In 2007, 37 percent of all textbooks sold at MU were custom or bundles. In 2008, the percent of bundles declined to 20 percent.
  4. Textbook Rental Pilot: In certain instances, textbook rental programs can provide a cost-savings option for students, provided that the course enrollment is fairly large, the course is consecutively offered, and the academic department commits to a minimum of three years to use a specific title. At large universities, textbook rental can work well with general education classes. Missouri S&T Bookstore worked with the math department and has conducted a pilot rental program for four semesters.
    • Since fall 2007,989 books have been rented for college algebra and trigonometry.
    • The new book price is $128, and it rents for $34. Had 989 students purchased this book at the new price, the total expenditure would have been $126,592.
    • Because of the rental option at $34, Missouri S&T students saved $92,966.