By Charlie Smart

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal was at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus today to discuss an issue very close to the hearts, and wallets, of many students. In a public forum organized by the student-led public interest group CONN PIRG, Senator Blumenthal sat down with UConn Vice Provost Sally Reis and senior economics major Sam Hollister to discuss what can be done about the rising cost of college textbooks.

Hollister, who is also the treasurer for CONN PIRG, began the discussion by outlining what he believes to be the root cause of textbook price inflation.

“Students don’t really have a choice in the textbook which is normally how price gets driven down. It’s the consumer’s choice, and it’s the consumer’s willingness to pay,” Hollister said. But in this situation, the consumer’s willingness to pay isn’t taken into consideration,” Hollister said.

In most classes, professors require specifics textbooks, effectively forcing to purchase them regardless of price. This can create a heavy economic burden. We asked several students on campus how much money they spent on textbooks for this semester alone. WHUS News asked several students how much they spent on textbooks this semester alone and the answers ranged from $200 to $600.

The goal of today’s forum was to present potential solutions to the problem of high priced text books. The most common suggestion? Going the way of wikipedia and offering open source textbooks.

“Here’s a textbook, it’s written by faculty, peer reviewed which means other faculty look at and they say that’s a really professional job, it’s useful. And it can be revised,” Blumenthal said.

The other benefit of open source texts? They are very cheap. The UConn Co-op currently offers one open-source math textbook.

“The textbook is available for free online and the Co-op is selling a print version of the book. I will say the print version…the open source textbooks are considerably less expensive than traditional textbooks,” said Bill Simpson, president of the UConn Co-op.

While this may sound great, there is one problem. These text books have to be written. Since they are available for very low cost, these textbooks do not generate much revenue for their authors and the majority of professors are not willing to write them for free. This is where Blumenthal’s plan for future legislation comes into play.

“This bill would provide support for pilot program. It would in other ways encourage an open textbook program,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal is working to provide grants to colleges which could be used to pay professors to write open source texts. Though he is not hopeful for this legislation to be passed by the end of this session, he hopes for it to gain traction at the beginning of the next. Another option for funding is to put advertising in the textbooks to help defray production costs. However it happens, Vice Provost Reis promised action on the suggestions from the senator and student groups and on the proposals put forth by the undergraduate student government.

Photo credit: wohnai via photopin cc

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