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.


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.

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