Monday, June 13, 2016

Discussion with the Chancellor about Textbooks

An ongoing conversation has been taking place this year concerning the costs of textbooks, which has become a more pressing issue. At the June 1 Faculty Council Meeting, the Council asked Fred Newbury to attend a meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, with bookstore and publisher representatives and to report back to the Council.

Dr. Thom Chesney chaired the meeting.  Ken Alfers and Fred Newbury were present representing faculty. All attendees were sent the following introduction and charge prior to the meeting:  

"Pearson Higher Education would like to meet on Wednesday, June 8th, from 10 am. – noon with a small but representative cross-section of DCCCD employees to ideate and discuss a variety of topics including but not limited to student access to and cost of educational resources, e-text environments, “bookstore of the future,” barrier and pathways to student success that are related to course materials, etc. This will be an open, conceptual discussion for which having members of our academic and student affairs, IT, business/finance, and administrative community will help determine any next steps we might take." 

The following is the complete report that Fred Newbury provided to the Faculty Council on June 10, 2016:

We met for nearly two hours with the executive leadership from Follett, Pearson and a relatively new company, Vital Source.  This was not intended to be a meeting where any kind of contractual agreement would result.  Only one publisher was present in an effort to better discuss the rapidly changing elements in publishing and marketing of instructional materials without the inevitable posturing for market share.

The primary focus for the meeting was to look at ways to be sure that students had the materials that were needed at the beginning of each class.  Cost and timely delivery was a major part of the discussion.

THE PROBLEM:  Dr. May started the meeting with an overview of the problems that students face with the beginning of each term.  There was nothing new here--he has discussed all of this with the Faculty Council on many occasions.  Cost is the obvious problem, but he also talked about the study that Dr. Mary Brumbach will be releasing within the next few days about those areas where we seem to lose students as they move through the matriculation process.  There are a number of areas identified--the bookstore is one of those.  The question for this meeting was very direct: how do we equip students to be ready on the first day of class--with course materials in hand?

It was also reported that, for many courses, 40% of our students never buy a textbook.  This is undoubtedly related most to the cost of the materials.   This is troubling, since it will dramatically reduce their chances of being successful. 

Dr. May asserted—as we have heard before—the DCCCD will not intentionally profit from our students.  This is consistent with steps that have already been taken regarding the commissions paid to the bookstore.

The consensus of the group was that colleges need to structure a system within the entire process that will ensure the optimum opportunity for students to be successful.  This certainly includes obtaining course materials in a timely, efficient and cost-effective manner.

In addition to these general concerns, the usual litany of bookstore problems was mentioned:  books not being available at the start of the term; short ordering, wrong titles given to students, prohibitions against giving students direct links to publisher materials, etc.


  • Digitally delivered materials have become, or soon will be, the norm.
  • Given the current marketing models, the competition between the bookstore and publisher is inevitable.  It is obvious why the bookstore does not want a direct link to the publisher.
  • The DCCCD wants further discussion about ways to integrate student registration and the book procurement process so that students have no delay in getting the materials needed.
  • The changes that have occurred in the flexibility of our enrollment options which provide an almost year-round semester with many beginning points, has added to the problem.

A dramatically different marketing approach is needed with would still provide incentive for publisher innovation of instructional material and a more efficient link with local bookstores.  Vital Source (one of the participants in the meeting) is a new firm who is working with almost all of the current publishers—as well as the bookstores.  They are largely a consolidator.  They want to be the link between all individual publishers and the bookstores.  Potentially, this means the student can order direct.  For digital products there is no delay in receiving the material.  Print texts can still be made available but there will be some delay in shipping. Much more discussion is needed but this is the type of innovation that needs development.


  • There are, obviously, many considerations that need much more discussion at every level in the DCCCD.  This kind of change potentially represents a dramatic departure from the traditional model that we have followed and could abridge a faculty member’s “right” to determine their own course material.
  • To what extent will textbook costs, or lack thereof, drive student enrollment in courses? Implicit in that question is the increasing pressure to use open educational resources to remove all costs for classroom materials—even to the determent of student learning.
  • There are certainly profound questions about academic freedom in all of this but there is also the question about maximizing the potential for student success.  We would hope for much more discussion with all of our faculty before such important decisions are made.

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