Iowa Law Recommends Releasing Textbook Information Earlier

This story was written by Andrea Fier, Iowa State Daily
Shopping around for textbooks may be easier now, due to a law being signed Tuesday.

The state passed a new bill, effective today, which strongly recommends that universities post information online about classes' required textbooks at least 14 days before classes start, in order to "promote consumer choices and lower the costs of textbooks in higher education."

Because so many students are graduating thousands of dollars in debt due to high tuition costs and pricey textbooks, anything that can be done to offset those costs is going to be important, said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, associate professor of economics and co-author of the bill.

"I just thought it was a good idea. As a professor, I'm well aware that textbooks have gotten increasingly expensive. Anything we can do to pull down the cost of education is going to be attractive to me," he said.

Quirmbach said although he isn't sure how big an issue this has been in the past, it does serve a lot of people's interests to get the information out as soon as possible.

The university will be in charge of getting the information out, and the best way to do that is through the university bookstore, said Lynette Seymour, general manager of the University Book Store.

"We're pleased to help," she said. "Our mission is to be sure that our students have the course materials they need."

The bookstore wants the orders in as far in advance as possible, Quirmbach said, noting that the faculty get repeated reminders from the bookstore about turning in their orders, beginning in April for the fall semester.

"I think its going be a little bit of a push to our local bookstores. It'll be more price competition with sites like Amazon.com, or other online or mail-order book sellers," Quirmbach said.

Seymour said the textbook information has always been available to students who come into the bookstore, but hasn't always been available online 14 days before classes start.

Seymour said she is not concerned that the legislation will have an impact on their sales.

"I think that students are savvy shoppers and we hope that if they are on our Web site, they will click purchase," Seymour said. "But it's just one of those services that we'll be providing."

Quirmbach said professors are sometimes forced to make last-minute changes to their textbook lineups.

"Sometimes the book goes out of print and the publishers don't tell you in advance, or the book becomes really popular and they are backordered and out of stock," he said.

He also said they worded the bill carefully to allow for this, and for other unusual cases, such as when enrollment for a class spikes and the university has to add extra sections in the week before classes start.

"It recommends it but doesn't require the posting of the information. I would hate some state regulation getting in the way of accommodating students," he said.

Quirmbach said he has spoken to Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden about the bill and Madden told him the university is making progress to get that information out and ready for this fall.
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