The United States Government Accountability Office (GOA) recently released a new report, mandated by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), which examines the efforts publishers have made to provide textbook information to faculty and make bundled materials available for sale individually, and how these practices have informed faculty selection of course materials. Additionally, the report reviews the extent to which post-secondary schools have provided students and college bookstores access to textbook information, and what the resulting costs and benefits have been.

The GAO study involved interviewing eight publishers representing over 85 percent of new U.S. higher education textbook sales, administrators at seven schools, four campus bookstores, two national campus retailers, faculty and student groups at three schools, and others with relevant expertise.

The GAO interviewed faculty from several schools, and the typical response was that they prioritize the selection of the most appropriate materials for their courses over pricing and format considerations. They did say, however, that they were more aware of affordability issues than they used to be.

An estimated 81 percent of the schools in the GAO nationally representative sample provided fall 2012 textbook information online for students before the start of the semester. Approximately 19 percent of the schools cited various reason for not providing the data, such as including textbook costs in tuition and fees or not posting a course schedule online. The representatives of most schools and bookstores said the implementation costs for disclosing this information are manageable and students are benefiting from the increased transparency.

The general consensus among students and others interviewed by the GAO is that students are benefiting from timely and dependable textbook information. Textbooks are an important factor for students to consider when they are calculating the overall cost of attending college. The ability to have sufficient information about textbooks before each academic term is vital for textbook affordability. Giving students early access to this information allows them to find textbooks at affordable prices through comparison shopping, helping to reduce the high cost of a post-secondary education.

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