Rising Costs of Textbooks Prompts Lawmakers to Hit the Books: How One Bill Plans to Help Students Save Hundreds

Consumer prices for college textbooks have increased 88 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photo by Jennifer Sauceda

For the sixth time in ten years, the Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill, proposed again in April by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, is designed to expand access to open educational resources and alleviate the increasing costs of college textbooks and supplies for students.

While many students don’t know much about the bill, they are still feeling the pain of escalating prices for required texts.

“Every semester I feel like I have to pay extra just to end up getting less. The prices of textbooks are getting ridiculous,” said junior business major Oliver Boyse.

The estimated cost of textbooks and supplies for the 2018-19 school year is $1,240 for private non-profit universities, according to the College Board. However, Chapman’s estimated cost of attendance averages the cost of textbooks and supplies at $1,560.

There may be a glimmer of hope for those hoping to spend less on their textbooks.

Congress took a first step in support of OER [Open Educational Resources] last year by appropriating $10 million for Open Textbook Pilot grants through the U.S. Department of Education,” according to an article by SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a group that works to democratize access to knowledge.  A SPARC representative who specializes in this topic was contacted, but could not comment by deadline.  

Neither of the two California senators, Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, have made an official statement regarding their views of the Affordable College Textbook Act and did not respond to two phone messages left with their press lines to ascertain their support.

If the legislation becomes law, universities such as Chapman may apply for a federal grant awarded to institutions of higher education which plan on establishing a free online textbook program or which plan on expanding an existing program.

Students say the Affordable Text act would be a great financial relief.

“A lot of times we don’t have either the time to work or the time to work a lot and our money is going towards other things so having those materials available and accessible to students I think is important,” said psychology major Julie Johnson.

Despite preferring physical textbooks over online versions, Johnson, a senior, would be satisfied with a free online version as long as she can print out the pages to read.

If faculty shows enough interest in implementing open textbooks, Chapman could do so without waiting for legislation to pass, according to Kristin Laughtin-Dunker, Chapman’s Coordinator of Scholarly Communications and Electronic Resources at Leatherby Libraries.

“We don’t need to wait for Congress to pass the Affordable College Textbook Act. That is part of why the Leatherby Libraries are seeking to expand and market their services to help faculty who are interested in adopting open textbooks for any of their courses,” said Laughtin-Dunker.

The library has “many items that faculty have used as required readings” as well as expensive textbooks. Laughtin-Dunker encourages students to check the library before purchasing.

Besides renting or buying used textbooks, some students have found other ways of obtaining required texts.

“This semester one student had the online textbook… and she sent out the link to the rest of the class,” senior Romina Haghighat said. “It was a big class there was probably 40 or 50 kids in the class and she sent it to all of us.”

Haghighat, a psychology major, has found that textbooks required for her major tend to be more expensive than those she purchased for her general education courses.

“[My sociology book] was probably $115 and my psych book was probably $120 or $130,” Haghighat shared.

Although she tries to save money by renting textbooks on sites such as Chegg and Amazon, Haghighat resorts to the university’s bookstore for courses that require a Chapman-specific version of the required text.

“I’ll first look online because I know they’re cheaper online than at the bookstore, but…if only the Chapman bookstore has it then I have to buy it from there,” she said.

 

“I was racially profiled”: Chapman student challenges ticket from California Highway Patrol

Domenick Sevor was driving to Chapman Grand in his Honda Civic when he was pulled over on Interstate 5. Photo by Amir Ghani.

A Chapman sophomore says he is yet another statistic in the racial profiling scandal that has rocked southern California law enforcement.

On August 23 Domenick Sevor was driving to Chapman on move-in day. The communications major had left his San Jose home that morning in his Honda Civic filled with clothes, furniture, his skateboard and other personal items, destined for his new digs in Chapman Grand. He was making good time traveling on Interstate 5 through the village of Grapevine (about halfway between Bakersfield and Santa Clarita), when a California Highway Patrolman on a motorcycle in front of him “slowed down, got behind me, and turned his lights on signaling me to pull to the far left,” Sevor recounted.

Sevor, who is African American, knew what to do when stopped by a cop. He had been stopped before when driving his brother’s Mercedes in white neighborhoods. He also grew up in a law-enforcement family. His mother served four years as a police officer and another twenty as a correctional officer. She had given her son the drill on how to behave when stopped so as to put police, who face danger when stopping strangers, at ease.

Sevor turned down his music and put his hands on the steering wheel at “ten and two” to allay the officer’s concerns.

But the officer, he recounted, seemed irate before even speaking with him. “He comes up to the window really aggressively and says, ‘Why the ‘f’ are you following an officer?’ I was dumbfounded. I was trying to explain my situation, but he just cut me off and asked for my license and registration,” Sevor said.

Sevor gave him his license and registration and the officer walked back to his bike, returning about 10 minutes later to give Sevor a $400 ticket for speeding (the officer pegged him as going 80 mph in a 65 mph zone) and “following a CHP unit several miles.”

Now, months later, he is fighting the charges, claiming the officer had no valid reason to pull him over and did so because of his race. And besides – how could he be speeding and following an officer, if the officer was driving at the speed limit?

“I was racially profiled,” Sevor said “There was no real reason for the officer to stop me.”

The sophomore’s experience is not a unique one. About 76 percent of all profiling complaints about California law enforcement agencies in 2017 concerned race or ethnicity, according to the 2019 Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report. Other complaints include sexual orientation profiling and age profiling.

Sevor said he’s been the victim of “driving while black” before, but never before had the inconvenience resulted in a costly ticket and having to miss school to attend court dates. On March 1st, Sevor had to drive two hours to the courthouse in Grapevine, just to be told by the judge that he “didn’t have to be present” that day and instead would have to show up on April 15th for his hearing.

The day he was stopped by the CHP motorcycle cop, “I was going 70 miles per hour on the 65 miles per hour freeway but always stayed at least three cars behind the officer who had to be going 80,” he recounted. “I was keeping up with the flow of traffic,” he added.

“The cop may have been suspicious because of all my furniture,” Sevor continued. “When I’m at home I get pulled over all the time. All of those times I never got ticketed. I was in the wrong part of town maybe driving a car they’re not used to. Occasionally I would drive my brother’s Mercedes. That’s when I was getting pulled over a lot.”

“At home I’ve been pulled over six times in total and pulled over once here. Back home I was pulled over in the wealthier areas, mostly west and east San Jose,” Sevor said.

CHP staff did not respond to Sevor’s specific accusation of racial profiling, but said the agency does not support the practice. “We train our officers to treat everyone as equal individuals,” said CHP Public Information Officer Christian Baldonado.

“We [the CHP] do not condone racial profiling. In fact, we are one of the most diverse departments out there as far as races within our department,” Baldonado said.

The note written on his ticket indicating he was “following” an officer was not a citation, but just a note to the officer to jog his memory should the ticket come up in court, said Officer Josh Greengard, a spokesman for the CHP.

When asked how it was possible for Sevor to be both speeding and following an officer if the motorcycle cop was driving the legal limit, Greengard said the officer was probably speeding because he was responding to a call that was later cleared.

But the California Highway Patrol has a long history of racial profiling.

In 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a racial profiling lawsuit against CHP after a Latino attorney was stopped by an officer because “his car touched the line and he turned his headlights on,” according to the ACLU.

The lawsuit reached a settlement in 2003, after which CHP pledged to reform their traffic and disciplinary policies.  

Over a decade later, claims of racial profiling by the CHP persist.

From 2012 to 2017, 40 percent of motorists stopped by the California Highway Patrol were Latino and two-thirds of those had their vehicles searched in Grapevine, the same area that Sevor was stopped at, according to an investigative report by the Los Angeles Times.

“Cops have different behaviors in different regions. They come from different cultures and backgrounds. Even though it seems everyone is going 80 miles per hour, officers still may be extra vigilant of their surroundings, especially if they’re on a motorcycle,” said Patrick Buelna, a civil rights attorney who specializes in civil rights and criminal defense at the Law Offices of John L. Burris.

Motorcycle officers may determine speed using two techniques: pacing, a tactic in which the officer maintains a constant speed behind a vehicle and estimates the driver’s speed, or using a radar system. Radar signals may detect speeds up to a mile away and around curbs, according to Greengard.

“A lot of the motorcycle guys are usually somewhat senior because it takes a little bit of practice to get on those motorcycles,” Officer Greengard said. “I don’t think they’re more nervous or less nervous than a normal road patrol officer in a car.”

“The officer probably wrote down that he was being followed as probable cause. He wrote the distance [8 miles] to determine the speed the accused was going,” Buelna hypothesized.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act, passed in California in 2016, requires that officers collect traffic stop data every time a vehicle is pulled over. This data includes the duration of the stop,the reason for the stop, the perceived race and age of the driver and whether or not the officer perceives the subject “to be LGBT.”

The CHP keeps track of their agency’s traffic stop data, according to Officer Baldonado.

“At any point if [an officer] is accused of racially profiling all that data is available and would be pulled,” he said.

If no racial profiling incidents are reported then the information remains in storage.

“Cops should record information, but now with what’s going on in America with all the race relations – especially between cops and minority groups – I think the data can be easily falsified or biased,” Sevor said, “Driving while black is when you’re a person of color and pulled over for seemingly no legitimate reason.”

Out of the more than one million drivers stopped in California from July to September of 2009, 166,650 were black, according to data from The Stanford Open Policing Project. About 6.5 percent of California’s population is black or African American, according the U.S. Census Bureau

“Knowing that I have no family down here, I’m always worried that if I do get pulled over and arrested for some reason, I’ll be in there a long time. It’s a scary thought,” he said. Sevor is reevaluating his relationship to law enforcement.

“I feel more nervous when I get pulled over down here because I’ve heard stories of police brutality and that’s always on my mind,” he said.

Sevor’s next court date is on April 15 where he will present his case to a judge and jury. The citing officer will be present to tell his side of the story, Sevor said.