Breaking News: GAO Releases HEOA Textbook Affordability Provision Report

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released its report on the implementation of the Textbook Affordability Provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The report was released on-time (early, even) and comes two years after the provision was passed.

The GAO found a majority of colleges and universities stated they do provide textbook information online, though the report was unclear the number of schools the data represents.

  • 81% – schools provide textbook information online
  • 19% – schools DO NOT provide textbook information online

Of the schools that did not provide textbook information online, 12% stated they included textbook cost in tuition or fees.

The GAO report also noted that publishers stated they are disclosing the textbook information required by HEOA (such as pricing and format options) and are also offering unbundled course materials. But according to the report, “stakeholders GAO interviewed said these practices have had little effect on faculty decisions.” Faculty interviewed by the GAO shared that they prioritize “selecting the most appropriate materials for their courses over pricing and format,” which is no surprise and is as it should be. Faculty also added “they are more aware of affordability issues than they used to be,” though there was no data to judge progress on faculty awareness.

GAO also shared feedback from students they interviewed that “students have benefited from timely and dependable textbook information” such as having “sufficient information and time to comparison shop for their course materials before each academic term.”

Overall, the report made no recommendations, but in noting that they stakeholders they interviewed believed these new textbook affordability practices were not impacting faculty adoption decisions, underscores the lack of significant data that could track whether faculty have indeed received textbook information such as costs, and whether faculty have weighed this information in their textbook adoptions.

The Textbook Affordability Provision (SEC. 133 of HEOA) was passed in 2010. Its purpose is to ensure that students have access to affordable course materials by decreasing costs to students and enhancing transparency and disclosure with respect to the selection, purchase, sale, and use of course materials.

GAO was tasked with reporting on implementation by institutions of higher education, college bookstores, and publishers, with a focus on the availability of college textbook information on course schedules; pricing information to faculty publishers; use of bundled and unbundled material in the college textbook marketplace; and implementation of the provision by institutions of higher education, including the costs and benefits to such institutions and to students, all on or before July 1, 2013.




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