Final Version of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act Leaves Textbook Provisions Intact

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Earlier this week U.S. Senate passed its own version of the "College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007" (H.R.4137 to amend and extend the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes) by unanimous consent (hence no recorded vote) and appointed members of a conference committee to resolve differences with the U.S. House version. The conference committee report was published yesterday (("Conference Report on H.R. 4137, College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008." Congressional Record Online. 30-Jul-2008. Thomas. Available [31-Jul-2008]. See textbook section starting at page H7361.)). This afternoon the House completed a roll-call vote approving the conference version. If I remember my civics class correctly, the bill now goes to the president for a signature. The conference report had to be approved by the Senate, which it did late Thursday night. Although the White House previously opposed the bill, the Associate Press reports that President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The main provisions of the textbook section remain intact from what was discussed earlier on DLTJ. The conference committee report goes into more detail about the intent of Congress in passing this legislation, so it is an interesting read by itself.

The managers on the part of the House and the Senate at the conference on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses on the amendment of the Senate to the bill (H.R. 4137), submit the following joint statement to the House and the Senate in explanation of the effect of the action agreed upon by the managers and recommended in the accompanying conference report:

(Now beginning on page 16 of the PDF version of the report)

Section 112. Textbook Information

The House bill includes provisions that provide more information on the cost of textbooks designed to ensure that students have better and timelier access to course materials.

The House bill requires publishers to provide faculty members with price information, copyright dates of all previous editions in the preceding ten years, substantial content revisions made between the current and previous editions, and to disclose whether the textbook or supplemental materials are available in any other format.

The House bill requires publishers that sell a college textbook and supplemental material as a single product to offer the college textbook and each supplement as a separate item.

The House bill requires institutions of higher education to publish in course schedules for pre- registration and registration purposes, to the “maximum extent practicable,” the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and the retail price of course materials.

The House bill requires an institution of higher education to provide upon request to any college bookstore its course schedule and materials required or recommended for each course.

The House bill provides that nothing about these programs supersedes an institution’s autonomy with respect to the selection of course materials.

The House bill’s textbook information program is effective as of July 1, 2008.

The Senate amendment contains no similar provisions.

The Senate recedes with amendments to the provisions to clarify the definitions of an integrated textbook and supplemental materials, and clarify that the provisions apply only to institutions receiving federal financial assistance. The amendments require a publisher to provide to faculty or others selecting textbooks, the wholesale price, and if available, the retail price at which books are made available to the public, respectively, and specify the copyright dates of the three previous editions need to be provided. The amendments also specify that an institution shall, to the maximum extent practicable, make the required textbook information, including ISBN information, available on its Internet course schedule in a manner of the institution’s choosing. Further, an institution shall publish a link to this information in its written course schedule. The amendments also encourage institutions to disseminate information to students about institutional programs that would help students save money on textbooks, such as rental programs or buy-back programs, prohibit the Secretary of Education from promulgating regulations on the section, and require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of the implementation of these provisions.

The Conferees intend that the provisions in this section decrease the cost of textbooks for students in higher education by ensuring that faculty, students, and bookstores all have sufficient, relevant, and timely information to make informed purchasing decisions. The information provided as a result of these provisions should be provided in a consumer-friendly manner and should be easily accessible. The Conferees further recognize the shared goals of identifying ways to decrease the burden of textbook costs on students by all parties, and the innovation of institutions, publishers, and bookstores in working toward this goal.

The Conferees recognize the cost savings to students of used textbooks. Further the Conferees do not intend the definition of “integrated textbooks” to discourage faculty and students from using such textbooks in their courses. Textbooks without explicit third-party contract limitations should not be considered as integrated if an identical used textbook or used supplemental material is commonly available to a student, thus making the materials fully usable for its intended purpose and meeting the requirements of a course of instruction at an institution of higher education.

It is the intention of the Conferees that institutions of higher education that do not offer Internet course schedules are not required to create such schedules for the purposes of satisfying the requirements of this section; and that institutions my satisfy the requirements by providing a link to another appropriate website that satisfies the requirements of the paragraph, provided that such link is clearly and prominently located on the institution’s Internet course schedule.

Further, the Conferees recognize the changing use of technology in the textbook marketplace. The provisions require institutions, to the maximum extent practicable, to disclose the ISBN information for each required textbook. As ISBN information changes, or is replaced by another standard identification system, the Conferees urge institutions to provide students with the most up-to-date and accurate information.

The Conferees understand that while regulations are prohibited in the context of implementation, enforcement and oversight, the Secretary of Education may need to develop non-regulatory guidance. The Conferees recognize that the Secretary has a variety of means by which to publicize these provisions, including publication in government materials, and should provide for the broad dissemination of such information through communication with institutions of higher education and other relevant stakeholders.

The Student PIRGs has an analysis of the conference version of the bill. No news yet from the Association of American Publishers or the National Association of College Stores.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 28th, 2011.