Students paying the price for late textbook adoptions
Textbooks are expensive, and UH professors’ neglect of a state law requiring professors to report their courses’ required textbooks may be raising costs even more.
“Students don’t know what books to order until the last week, which sets them financially back,” said Valentin Perez, finance junior and two-year appointee to the Bookstore Advisory Committee.
He added that late faculty textbook submissions have been an ongoing problem for the committee.
“By law, (faculty members) are supposed to submit them a month in advance.”
Perez is the only student member of the committee and has devoted a great deal of his time to researching the history of textbook adoption at UH. He said he’s found evidence dating back to the late ’90s of communication problems between University faculty and the bookstore.
His goal on the committee is to make the process of buying textbooks easier on students. He said the enforcement of the textbook law would be the first step.
Higher education law practitioner Debra M. Esterak confirmed this law as Texas H.B. 33, better known as the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2011. According to section 51.452 of the law, all Texas universities must set a deadline for timely textbook submissions from professors.
However, universities are allowed to pass this authority to the institutions’ official bookstores.
“The earlier we can order the books, the cheaper they will be for students,” said Nick Sherrod, the general manager for Textbook Brokers, a private textbook store located just off campus.
Sherrod estimated that around 10 percent of adoptions had still not been made by the first week of this semester — meaning 10 percent of professors haven’t shared their textbook requirements with any portion of the University or surrounding campus.
According to the Barnes & Noble College’s FacultyEnlight website, which suggests textbook options for different courses and topics, adopting early allows time for the bookstore to offer the best and cheapest options for students. This often involves shopping for a larger pool of books to offer as used and rental options.
The website also states that when students opt to rent or buy a used book, they save anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the original cost. Early textbook adoption means the bookstore will know ahead of time which books will be in demand for the upcoming semester.
If the bookstore has this information by the end of the current semester, they are able to buy more books back from students at a higher price.
“We will pay 50 percent of the cost of that book if the book will be used next semester,” said Felix Robinson, the general manager at the University of Houston Bookstore, in a 2012 SGA meeting. “We want to be able to buy those books back before students leave.”
S.B. 33, the state law which governs textbook adoptions in Texas, says that the deadline universities set must be at least 30 days before the first day of class.
The deadline at UH tends to fall in late March for Fall semesters and late October for the Spring. These deadlines are set before registration opens to allow students to evaluate the cost of the required books before committing to a course.
“The initial email is sent out from the bookstore in partnership with Academic Affairs to all faculty four weeks prior to the deadline followed by two reminder emails,” Robinson said.
FacultyEnlight can aid professors in finding relevant textbooks for their courses.
A benefit of early adoptions, according to the FacultyEnlight website, is that the more time the bookstore has to place and receive orders, the better equipped they are to deal with delays which can range from problems with shipping to searching for difficult-to-find titles.
“Our goal is to provide the correct course content materials and make them available and accessible to students two weeks prior to the start of classes each semester,” Robinson said.
Not a ‘critical issue’
For Fall 2016, the UH bookstore set the deadline as March 25. By the April 13 meeting of the Bookstore Advisory Committee, only 26 percent of faculty members had submitted their textbook requests.
“We’ve tried everything to make it as easy as possible for them to do,” said Marcella Norwood, a department chair within the College of Technology and faculty senate appointment to the committee. “The bookstore has tried to make it as easy as possible for faculty to order books.”
Paula Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the reason for late textbook submissions is often due to faculty members taking time to ensure they’re selecting the best, most relevant materials.
“The University continues to work closely with faculty to make sure orders are processed in a timely manner,” Short said.
Faculty Senate President Jonathan Snow said that while he does not think the faculty senate has been involved in the issue before, the textbook request deadline set by the bookstore might be too early.
“I haven’t heard of any penalties for being late,” Snow said. “Textbooks are rapidly and readily available from so many sources these days. It’s hard to see it as a critical issue.”
Efforts to incentivize faculty to meet deadline are an ongoing focus of the Bookstore Advisory Committee, which works directly with the bookstore in addition to taking student and faculty input.
“Going forward, we will continue to strengthen the bonds we have formed with UH professors through ongoing conversations, while also exploring new, inventive ways to engage with them,” Robinson said. “Working together, we can ensure that each student has access to affordable course material options as early as possible, helping to guarantee student success.”