Symposium aims to lower cost of textbooks

Kristine Gill

About 250 Ohio faculty, librarians, presidents and bookstore owners attended the Textbook Affordability Symposium Tuesday at Columbus State. The symposium was part of Chancellor Eric Fingerhut’s 10-year strategic plan which includes efforts to make college more affordable for students.

Michael Chaney, director of media relations for the Ohio Board of Regents, said textbooks are an out-of-pocket expense with which students often struggle. He said the focus of the symposium was to discuss possible solutions to that issue.

“That’s really the goal. We wanted to have the dialogue, but focused on some of the ideas and so people can take them with them,” he said, adding that many of the presentations speakers gave are available for download from the board’s Web site.

Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart, a company that converts textbooks to online books, talked about the availability of course materials in digital form. He said that while owning the digital text may not be required of students in the future, the availability provides a low-cost alternative.

“We believe in student choice,” Devine said. “There are different types of learning modalities that students go through. We certainly wouldn’t think a professor should require the use of the electronic textbooks, but they should urge them for those students who are comfortable using the digital and are interested in saving money.”

Purchasing electronic versions of textbooks is one way to cut the cost.

Associate Provost Gayle Ormiston, who attended the symposium along with other members of Kent State staff, said the presentations explored statewide solutions posing questions such as; “Is it possible to establish a standard textbook and buy it in bulk for cheaper?”

Ormiston, Melissa Spohn of Library Media Services, and Patricia Myers, director of government relations, attended the symposium along with representatives from some of the regional campuses.

As executive director for Higher Education for the Association of American Publishers, Bruce Hildebrand gave a different sort of presentation. He said the idea that publishers are intentionally providing the most expensive books is a “campus legend.”

“Faculty give orders to the bookstore and the bookstore places the order with the publisher,” he said. “You can’t say publishers are sending these down your throats.”

Hildebrand said students have to buy the books their professors require for class. He said students are more likely to read the more expensive version of a textbook.

“Students want photographs and color,” he said. “There are black and white frills editions of the textbooks for say $25 but there’s a better chance of reading it if it’s $75 with pictures.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].