[Editor's Note: Throughout his presidential campaign, President-elect Barack Obama often talked about the need to make college more affordable for low- and middle-income students. In today's post, longtime student advocate Luke Swarthout offers a proposal for overhauling the college textbook industry that he believes will result in significant savings for students. Luke's views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New America Foundation.]
By Luke Swarthout
As the incoming Obama administration prepares its policy agenda and searches for ways to help middle class Americans within the constraints of the current budget deficit, it should consider championing efforts to bring down the costs of college textbooks. This goal could be accomplished in a relatively inexpensive manner: not by more generously subsidizing the current system but by sparking reform in the way textbooks are created and sold.
The high cost of textbooks is a significant but often overlooked part of the college cost equation for millions of students from low- and middle-income families. The average student pays nearly $1,000 for books each year -- a significant sum. For students at low-cost public colleges, books can cost as much as 40 percent of tuition and fees. And to add insult to injury, students and their families are often frustrated to learn that they cannot resell their textbooks at the end of the semester because new, but substantively unchanged editions are at the printers.
Local politicians from both blue states and red states (and those in between) recognize the saliency of the issue. Legislators in states as politically diverse as California, Georgia, and Ohio have introduced bills designed to make college textbooks more affordable at their public colleges and universities.