MADISON, Wis. – Encouraging professors to name textbooks early will give students more time to find the best deals. That is one of several guidelines the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will consider next week, as part of an ongoing effort to manage rising textbook costs.

Universities across the country are grappling with this issue. According to national studies, students’ average annual cost for textbooks and supplies ranged from $801 to $904 in the 2005-06 academic year, the most recent year available.

“Finding a variety of ways to keep the costs of textbooks affordable for all students is a very important issue for the Board of Regents. We look forward to hearing about some concrete measures that can be taken on a system and campus level to make further progress in this area and set an example nationally,” said Regent Vice President Charles Pruitt.

The recommended guidelines are part of an ongoing effort across the UW System to address the rising costs of textbooks. The goal is to develop a formal policy that will provide long-term guidance to UW institutions for controlling these costs. That new policy – which may be presented to the Regents as soon as fall 2009 – will dovetail with provisions in the federal 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act that take effect July 2010.

The UW System policy will work actively to meet the federal requirement for campuses to identify textbooks and retail price on course schedule websites, where practicable.

The UW System is already ahead of the curve. Seven of the 13 four-year UW institutions (54%) and four UW Colleges have textbook rental programs in place. That compares to only 2.23% of higher education institutions nationally that have some form of textbook rental. Costs can be considerably less with rental programs – for example, $131 to $174 was the range of average annual textbook rental fees for UW campuses offering these programs in the 2008-09 academic year.

“I’m pleased we are finding practical ways to reduce textbook costs for students,” said UW System President Reilly. “And we are taking steps to make more progress, well before the federal mandate that takes effect a year from now. These preliminary guidelines will act as building blocks for a more formal policy that will help control textbook costs for our students well into the future. The more we can do sooner rather than later – the better for our students.”

A 2007 UW System report on textbook costs found that the most effective, cost-conscious approach will vary for each campus and involve multiple stakeholders, including faculty, bookstore managers, and student groups.

Interim guidelines being recommended to the Regents next week will call on campuses to:

  • Develop a textbook calendar and “early adoption” program to enable students to shop for the best prices;
  • Provide the retail price of course materials with course schedules;
  • Encourage unbundled versions of textbook and course materials;
  • Use textbook editions for as long as possible, moving on to newer editions only when the educational content has substantially changed;
  • Allow e-textbook purchases; and
  • Encourage student-managed initiatives, such as textbook swaps.

Textbook swaps – a means of helping students buy and sell their used textbooks – have been occurring on some UW campuses for a number of years, with UW-Madison’s swap expanding campus-wide this year.

Media Contact

David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464