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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas
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National Digital Marketplace May Combat Rising Costs of Textbooks

June 1, 2007

In June 2006, House Committee on Education and Labor members Howard P. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and David Wu (D-OR) requested that the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance examine how to increase the affordability of college textbooks. Since financial aid rarely covers the cost of textbooks and other learning materials, this factor alone often determines whether students from low- and moderate-income families can afford to go to college. The committee's one-year study resulted in "Turn the Page--Making College Textbooks More Affordable," which addresses current solutions and their limitations; long-term solutions; and the federal role in lowering textbook costs.

Fortunately, states, colleges, bookstores, and publishers are now mobilizing to address this concern. However, the steps they are taking--while well-intentioned--are not aimed at, nor will they correct, what the study describes as the underlying cause of the problem: "a structural imperfection in the market for college textbooks and learning materials." To resolve this, the advisory committee recommends a public-private initiative to build a national digital marketplace that can meet the needs of all stakeholders, especially students.

Of particular interest, the report notes, is the digital marketplace under development by the California State University System. This may serve as a prototype for the national resource recommended by the advisory committee.

The Federal Role
The committee also recommends that the federal government's approach might center on six objectives:

1. Encourage states and colleges to adopt those short-term solutions already identified by their peers, which best suit their needs.

2. Partner with states, higher education institutions, and the private sector to ensure grant aid is sufficient to cover textbook expenses for needy students.

3. Support experiments to assess the costs and benefits of alternative approaches under consideration by states and institutions.

4. Provide for the timely prototyping and testing of the market-enabling infrastructure needed for a national digital marketplace.

5. Promote creation of a voluntary national textbook information clearinghouse as an early product of the infrastructure.

6. Create incentives that motivate states and institutions to use the national digital marketplace once it is designed and implemented.

For more information visit the advisory committee’s Web site at www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/edlite-index.html