Textbook Issues: Economic Pressures and Academic Values

Educational Policies Committee

The rising cost of college textbooks has recently become a topic of intense public debate. It is perceived as a significant barrier to college attendance, and an assortment of legislative remedies has been proposed. This position paper of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges explains that profit is just one of a complex series of interacting issues that determine the ultimate cost of textbooks to students. Educational and ethical issues surrounding the adoption of course material are explored, and a wide variety of interested parties and their concerns are identified. The paper describes current criticisms of the college textbook situation and presents avenues whereby faculty members can help control costs while still preserving academic integrity. Recommendations are made to local academic senates on possible local responses to the issues, including appropriate college-wide guidelines and steps that can be taken by individual faculty members.


These recommendations describe principles and specific steps that can be taken by local academic senates and by individual faculty members in response to the issues described above. Local academic senates are encouraged to use these ideas to ensure that their college crafts a textbook and materials adoption process that achieves an appropriate balance of economic and academic concerns for the benefit of their students and their institution.

Recommendations to Local Senates

  1. Local senates should endeavor to make every faculty member aware of the material in this paper so that it may influence their adoption decisions.
  2. Local senates should review and implement the recommendations from the 1997 Academic Senate textbook paper (see 1997 Recommendations on page18).
  3. Academic freedom should not be compromised in the choice of textbooks and other course materials unless there is overwhelming evidence that the exercise of academic freedom would clearly interfere with student access and/or student success.
  4. Local senates should use their collegial consultation process to develop college-wide policies and procedures and guidelines for adoption of textbooks and course materials that:
    • protect academic freedom, educational quality and affordability;
    • protect the ability of faculty to self-author or publish relevant educational materials;
    • delineate requirements for a departmental review that:
      • includes processes for resolving disputes, as well as means to accommodate faculty in the minority;
      • includes evaluation of cost, as well as suitability to teaching content in the course outline;
    • provide a local academic senate designed mechanism to resolve disputes not addressed at the department level;
    • reduce the cost to students of required instructional materials.
  5. Local senates should ensure that textbook adoption procedures:
    • protect both individual faculty and discipline prerogatives, especially educational quality;
    • provide additional participation, beyond the individual author, in adoption of self-authored or self-published material.
  6. Local senates should use their collegial consultation process to develop policies regarding the ethics of selling examination copies for personal gain, and to promote alternative means of textbook disposal that benefit students.
  7. Local senates should ensure that the college has an easily accessible, clear, comprehensive student grievance policy that can be used to resolve student complaints about textbook content and adoption decisions.
  8. Local senates should facilitate a college and district discussion of the impact of bookstore profits on textbook cost, and subsequently determine whether or not the bookstore should continue to be a profit center that generates revenue for other non-related activities.

Recommendations to Faculty

  1. Faculty should promote student access and success by:
    • knowing the total cost of textbook packages they adopt;
    • avoiding practices that add unnecessary costs;
    • considering all available options for textbooks and course materials, such as electronic resources, in their adoption decisions.
  2. Faculty should consider and encourage all means to control (reduce) the cost of textbooks and materials that do not compromise academic freedom or educational quality, such as:
    • guaranteeing minimum length of time that a text (and edition) will be used;
    • discouraging automatic bundling of materials and determining if bundles provide added value for students;
    • monitoring (and adhering to) due dates to ensure best price and/or availability of used books;
    • minimizing use of expensive texts if other educationally equivalent alternatives are available;
    • encouraging library cooperation in obtaining and maintaining reserve and reference copies of textbooks;
    • indicating to bookstores and students that a text is required only if it will actually be used;
    • using, where possible, materials in public domain as well as free courseware;
    • requiring net cost information from publishing representatives and maximizing faculty awareness of exact costs;
    • discouraging publishers from making unnecessary new editions and mid-year edition changes;
    • encouraging bookstores to provide copies to the campus library at reduced cost to the library (from their profit margin);
    • finding (or developing) book loan projects, forms of subsidy, and/or book scholarships;
    • making students aware of financial aid and other resources;
    • making students aware of alternative sources for textbooks and materials
  3. Faculty representatives should work proactively with campus bookstore staff to ensure best (or competitive) prices on textbooks and should actively participate on the campus committee charged with “oversight” of the campus bookstore.


A. Recommendations to Local Academic Senates

  1. Each local academic senate should include bookstore policies in its college/district shared governance agreement.
  2. Each local academic senate should determine the goals of the college bookstore and should review bookstore policies in light of the questions raised in this document.
  3. Each college should have a shared governance bookstore committee that influences pricing policies and the use of profits.
  4. The college shared governance bookstore committee should primarily include student and faculty members.
  5. Each local academic senate should encourage the college to track the effect of textbook prices on student success, as part of their student equity and/or matriculation plan. Scholarships or book loans might be used to mitigate the effect of high book costs on student access.

B. Recommendations to Faculty

  1. Faculty should be aware of the impact of textbook costs on student access and success.
  2. Faculty should consider both academic integrity and financial implications in making their textbook adoption decisions.
  3. Faculty should be aware of textbook adoption practices that impact the cost of texts: the use of multiple titles, late orders, bundled materials and frequency of change.
  4. Faculty should consider a wide range of practices that might be adopted to lower the cost of textbooks to students, such as:
    • ensuring the availability of textbook scholarships and loans;
    • putting texts on reserve in the library;
    • identifying online sources of materials;
    • using custom texts.