Provost to form ‘task force’ to focus on textbook costs

Provost Robert Frank is planning a “task force” of faculty members to tackle the issue of high textbook costs – an expense students have been complaining about for years.

“The cost of textbooks is very high,” said Frank while presenting the task force idea at a Faculty Senate meeting in July.

Frank and Timothy Chandler, senior associate provost, have asked Faculty Senate to recommend faculty members to be a part of the team that will evaluate the issue and come up with the best recommendation for the university. Frank said the task force should be ready to meet and discuss the issue in about two weeks.

“We’ve gotten a bunch of nominations so far, but we haven’t completed the list,” Frank said. “We’re waiting on names from Faculty Senate. We won’t name them until we have a full list.”

The members of the task force will include faculty from different departments who will deliberate throughout the fall semester and recommend the best solution.

“We’d like to have a good representation of people at least from different departments and disciplines who can meet regularly,” Chandler said. “I’m sure the provost wants the task force to come up with recommendations that we can use that will help keep costs down for students as much as possible. It’s just the same as us trying not to raise tuition each year. It’s another way to help make higher education affordable for students.”

David Dumpe, an assistant professor in the finance department who is assisting Frank with the task force, said there will be at least eight faculty members on the task force. Dumpe and Frank said they hope to have a recommendation by the end of the semester.

Chandler said the idea to confront the issue of expensive textbooks is not a spontaneous decision. The interest in taking a closer look at textbook costs started with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, where legislatures called for universities to examine textbook expenses and figure out a solution.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at, and now the provost would like the faculty to get involved because they are who interact the most with students,” Chandler said. “We’re talking to different departments to see what they’ve been trying to tackle this issue within their departments.”

The act also started a statewide and then nationwide conversation about what can be done about the amount of money students spend on textbooks each year, explained Chandler. The university has been looking into the issue for some time now, including doing some research on what other universities are doing to ebb the problem for their students.

“We asked The Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C. to do research for us and look into it back in 2010, and they produced a report for us,” Chandler said. “We have that report as a baseline and there are things that certain universities are doing to solve the problem.”

Though the university has looked at programs at other universities, Frank said no ideas are being considered right now.

“We have looked at what other universities have done, and we will present that to the group as ideas that Kent State could or could not emulate,” Frank said.

“Whether or not they’ll work here, one of the tasks of the group would be to say, ‘Would those ideas work at Kent State?’”

Chandler said they have also spoken to the University Bookstore in hopes of getting more insight into finding the best solution for Kent State students.

“We’ve had conversations with the bookstore, and they’ve been good about it. They provide convenience on campus for students, so we’re sure they can help with this issue,” Chandler said.

University Bookstore director Mike Marquardt said the bookstore is trying to meet with the provost and faculty about a solution to high textbook prices by trying to go digital. Marquardt said he expects the meeting will happen soon.

“We are trying to meet in September so that we could have more digital book options by spring,” Marquardt said.

Frank and Dumpe expect to have the textbook task force together and hope to have their first meeting by the end of September.

In the meantime, Marquardt said the bookstore is currently trying to help students save money on books by giving the option to rent textbooks.

“A student can save about 15 percent by renting textbooks,” Marquardt said. “Students can have the book the whole semester and can highlight and annotate inside the book, and then turn the book in at the end of the semester.”

There are different ways to approach the issue, and Chandler said many universities have implemented strategies that slowly “chisel away here and there” at the high costs of textbooks.

“Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet here. The provost talked about rentals, professors producing materials and e-books,” Chandler said. “It’s not an easy issue, and it’s not just a Kent State issue. It’s a national issue. We’re hoping to come up with something that will bring in other universities to see what we’re doing to solve this problem.”

Contact Raytevia Evans at [email protected]. Contact Erika Kerr at [email protected].