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Monday, January 5, 2009

Minnesota students endorse textbook affordability campaign

A recent article discusses how several colleges in Minnesota are implementing initiatives to decrease textbook prices for students. Some initiatives include: book rental programs, expanding the selection of ebooks in the college store, and purchasing more textbooks to keep on reserve at the library. Another cost saving approach implemented by biochemistry professors at the University of Minnesota involved selecting five textbooks that could be used for the course and then asking publishers for bids. The professors then chose the lowest priced textbook. However, faculty are not the only ones involved in the effort, students are also taking the lead and implementing their own initiatives. This month, the University of Minnesota Student Association endorsed a textbook affordability campaign designed by the student-led Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) which asks professors to do the following: consider the cost when selecting textbooks, tell students if older versions of the book can be used instead, and publish materials online. Ryan Kennedy, chair of the University of Minnesota's Student Senate and an MPIRG leader explained, "The goal ... is to start affecting departments' actual purchasing policy. That's the long-lasting, systemic change we're looking for." The group plans to speak with professors at several private colleges this spring to inform them about the campaign.

Student groups across the US and Canada are becoming more active at promoting actionable steps for reducing textbook prices. They are also addressing or targeting communications more directly at faculty members to change their behaviors. This presents opportunities and challenges for college stores. We have seen several stores take a proactive approach towards student relations in this area. A great example would be the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials (CRAM). In addition to sponsoring meetings, CRAM has drafted a set of principles, a “be booksmart campaign” for students and instructors, and other resources. Stores that are more proactive in working with students and faculty are likely to be better positioned for the future. NACS has developed some materials in the campus relations toolkit that may help stores with these conversations. The campus relations toolkit is available to members through the NACS website.

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