United States Government Accountability Office
Highlights of GAO-13-368,a report to
Students Have Greater Access to TextbookInformation
Why GAO Did This Study
The rising costs of postsecondaryeducation present challenges tomaintaining college affordability.Textbooks are an important factor students need to consider whencalculating the overall cost of attendingcollege. In an effort to ensure thatfaculty and students have sufficientinformation about textbooks, Congressincluded requirements in HEOAconcerning publisher and schooldisclosures, as well as publisher provision of individual coursematerials. HEOA directed GAO toexamine the implementation of the newtextbook provisions.This report addresses (1) the effortspublishers have made to providetextbook information to faculty andmake bundled materials available for sale individually, and how thesepractices have informed facultyselection of course materials; and (2)the extent to which postsecondaryschools have provided students andcollege bookstores access to textbookinformation, and what the resultingcosts and benefits have been. Toconduct this study, GAO interviewedeight publishers representing over 85percent of new U.S. higher educationtextbook sales, administrators at sevenschools, four campus bookstores, twonational campus retailers, faculty andstudent groups at three schools, andothers with relevant expertise. GAOalso reviewed websites of a nationallyrepresentative sample of schools,complaint data from Education, andrelevant federal laws.GAO makes no recommendations inthis report. The Department of Education provided technicalcomments, which were incorporated asappropriate.
What GAO Found
Publishers included in GAO’s study have disclosed textbook informationrequired by the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), such aspricing and format options, and made components of bundled materialsavailable individually, but stakeholders GAO interviewed said thesepractices have had little effect on faculty decisions. While most publishersin GAO’s study provided all relevant textbook information, two smaller publishers did not provide copyright dates of prior editions, and one didnot provide certain pricing information. Publishers communicatedinformation to faculty online and in other marketing materials, and in mostcases the information was available to students and the public. Inaddition, publishers said they began making bundled materials availablefor sale individually before HEOA was passed. Faculty GAO interviewedsaid they typically prioritize selecting the most appropriate materials for their courses over pricing and format considerations, although they saidthey are more aware of affordability issues than they used to be. Changesin the availability of options in the college textbook market that are notrelated to HEOA, such as the increase in digital products, have alsoshaped faculty decisions about course materials.Based on GAO’s review of a nationally representative sample of schools,an estimated 81 percent provided fall 2012 textbook information online,and stakeholders GAO interviewed said implementation costs weremanageable and students have benefited from increased transparency.HEOA allows schools some flexibility in whether and how they discloseinformation and an estimated 19 percent of schools did not providetextbook information online for various reasons, such as includingtextbook costs in tuition and fees or not posting a course schedule online.Representatives of most schools and bookstores, as well as others GAOinterviewed, said implementation costs were not substantial. In addition,there was general consensus among students and others GAOinterviewed that students have benefited from timely and dependabletextbook information. Specifically, representatives of studentorganizations said they had sufficient information and time to comparisonshop for their course materials before each academic term.
Estimated Percent of Schools That Provided Textbook Information Online