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Sunday, March 03, 2024

There are some things that change almost every semester: roommates, classes and professors. But the one thing that seems to remain constant is the temporary sticker price shock every student faces when the cash register rings up the astronomical cost of textbooks.

That begins the first semester of freshman year and won't stop until graduation.

And since textbook prices are increasing at more than two times the inflation rate for all finished goods, according to the Government Accountability Office in 2005, it won't be going away anytime soon.

Some students try to curb the costs by ordering used books online, sharing texts or simply not buying them at all, but we're glad government and university officials have finally begun to realize there is a problem.

This past Wednesday the House voted unanimously in favor of a bill aiming to make buying textbooks more affordable. The bill would require state universities to provide textbook information to students at least 30 days before the first day of classes.

And the recent announcement that UF will begin placing stricter requirements on faculty who receive royalties from textbooks sold to their own students is definitely a step in the right direction.

While some professors show compassion for students paying the cost of higher education by requiring a limited number of textbooks and merely suggesting supplements, others seems to anticipate profiting off of a large captive audience - students taking a required course.

It's more than unfair that those who choose the books we must buy carelessly disregard the reality of living on a budget.

The fact that some avaricious professors continue to pull in an enormous profit from requiring books that they've authored - even if those are not necessarily the best materials or even the most cost effective - is also not anything new on college campuses.

It's one thing to be exploited by the $3.4 billion-a-year higher-education publishing industry, but it's another to know that the money you hand over at the checkout counter will inevitably end up in your professor's back pocket.

While the UF measure will hopefully keep an eye on professors who are exploiting the very students they are supposed to be instructing, we're worried that it may be a little too lenient.

Professors who require students to purchase their textbooks would have to provide evidence that there is a "reasonable likelihood" that more than 50 percent of their profits will be from customers other than UF students in two years. They would also have to show that the book is sold at a fair price and is of satisfactory academic quality.

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But the main problem we have is that the policy does not specify any penalty if a textbook doesn't reach the target for outside sales in the time required.

Though the provost would be empowered to approve or disapprove of a faculty member who frequently receives profits, we're wondering why it was only left up to one person to make that decision.

Perhaps it would be a better idea to allow a committee to annually review professors who receive royalties, evaluate the materials they have chosen and decide whether they are taking advantage of their position.

We appreciate any concern UF shows for students struggling to pay for textbooks amid the rising cost of college, but it's important to make sure these institutional measures don't amount to empty promises.

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