Federal Textbook Disclosure Rules Now Law

The fact that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (Public Law 110-315) — otherwise known as HEOA — was signed into law last year is probably not big news to anyone. One of the parts of the bill that I have been following and commented on here in DLTJ is the textbook disclosure rules. I haven’t posted follow-up commentary here because I’ve been expecting that the U.S. Department of Education will be forthcoming with new regulations regarding the implementation of the disclosure rules. As it turns out, a sentence was added into the legislation between the time I last read it closely and when it finally was made law: “No Regulatory Authority- The Secretary shall not promulgate regulations with respect to this section.” It would appear the language of the law stands on its own.

In December, Vincent Sampson in the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education wrote a 219-page “Dear Colleague” letter that provides summaries of provisions of HEOA. One summary covers the “Textbook Information” section (from pages 34 and 35, in its entirety):

The HEOA supports the academic freedom of faculty to select high quality course materials for their students while imposing several new provisions to ensure that students have timely access to affordable course materials at postsecondary institutions receiving Federal financial assistance. These provisions support that effort and include the following:

  • When textbook publishers provide information on a college textbook or supplemental material to faculty in charge of selecting course materials at postsecondary institutions, that information must be in writing (including electronic communication) and must include
    • the price of the textbook;
    • the copyright dates of the three previous editions (if any);
    • a description of substantial content revisions;
    • whether the textbook is available in other formats and if so, the price to the institution and to the general public;
    • the separate prices of textbooks unbundled from supplemental material; and
    • to the maximum extent possible, the same information for custom textbooks.
  • To the maximum extent practicable, an institution must include on its Internet course schedule for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material
    • the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and retail price;
    • if the ISBN is not available, the author, title, publisher, and copyright date; or
    • if such disclosure is not practicable, the designation “To Be Determined.”

    If applicable, the institution must include on its written course schedule a reference to the textbook information available on its Internet schedule and the Internet address for that schedule.

  • A postsecondary institution must provide the following information to its college bookstores upon request by such college bookstore:
    • the institution’s course schedule for the subsequent academic period; and
    • for each course or class offered, the information it must include on its Internet course schedule for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material, the number of students enrolled, and the maximum student enrollment.
  • Institutions disclosing the information they must include on their Internet course schedules for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material are encouraged to provide information on
    • renting textbooks;
    • purchasing used textbooks;
    • textbook buy-back programs; and
    • alternative content delivery programs.

The HEOA also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the implementation of this section and report to Congress (See Non-institutional Studies, Reports, and Summits, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Studies and Reports, Textbook Information)

The Secretary is prohibited from regulating on this section of the HEA, but will monitor institutions and review student complaints relating to these provisions.

The law says that this provision “shall take effect on July 1, 2010″ so schools have a little less than a year now to adjust their internal data gathering and reporting systems. I haven’t been able to find further guidance on the Department of Education website or at other sources. This effects Ohio’s efforts in promoting lower-cost, highly-effective course materials, so if anyone knows of other information, please let me know.

Update


A colleague points out that the summary missed a crucial aspect of the legislation. Under publisher requirements, the law has this clause as well:
Unbundling of college textbooks from supplemental materials.– A publisher that sells a college textbook and any supplemental material accompanying such college textbook as a single bundle shall also make available the college textbook and each supplemental material as separate and unbundled items, each separately priced.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.uso.edu/opportunities/textbooks/index.php to http://web.archive.org/web/20110627135928/http://uso.edu/opportunities/textbooks/index.php on November 16th, 2012.

(This post was updated on 16-Nov-2012.)