The Capitol Building, where the Higher Education Opportunity Act was passed by Congress in 2008 (Image credit: Kyle Rush)

Many college students may not realize that there are federal laws on the books regarding the purchase and sale of college textbooks. These laws are actually intended to help students, faculty, and colleges save money and get the best possible course materials for everyone involved in the academic world. The latest changes to these laws came in 2008 when the Higher Education Opportunity Act was passed by Congress. Although similar laws regarding higher education have been in place since the 1960s, this “reauthorization” of the laws included some important changes and improvements. Here are the three basic changes that were specifically related to textbooks:

1) When marketing textbooks and other course materials to academic faculty members, textbook publishing companies must include the prices of each of these materials. In the past, some companies did not have to disclose specific pricing information. This made it more difficult for professors to decide whether or not to choose certain textbooks for their classes because they were not fully informed of how much students would have to pay for them.

2) A “textbook bundle” (such as Law Core Textbook Bundle: Equity and Trusts) is a package that includes a textbook along with other supplemental materials. These may include study aids or guides, reference manuals, CD’s, DVD’s, or other similar items. The act required that publishers had to make these supplemental items available separately. What this means is that students must be able to purchase these items individually without having to buy the entire bundle, which could cost a pretty penny. In many cases, students only want to purchase the textbooks included in these packages or some of the supplemental items. For instance, if a student bought a used copy of a textbook, they may wish to buy the supplements separately if they were not included with the used book.

3) Finally, the act dictated that institutions of higher education must tell students which textbooks are required and/or recommended for their classes when registering for them. This gives students a good idea of how much money they will be spending on course materials and supplies, in addition to tuition costs. By making this information available to students, it allows them to shop around for their books on sites like prior to the start of classes. If a student registers for a class that is not necessarily required and then discovers that the required materials will cost too much, the student will have the opportunity to look around for other classes that may be necessary to take that require fewer or cheaper materials in order to fulfill certain credit hour requirements.