Data Science, University News

Lack of textbook info violates federal law

Administrators to remind faculty regularly to update course material going forward

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2015

More than half of courses this semester have no textbook information listed on Banner, violating a federal law that requires colleges receiving federal support for financial aid to make such information available to students during registration.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act states that “an institution of higher education receiving federal financial assistance” must publish the ISBN and retail price information of textbooks and other course materials online during both preregistration and registration.

This law — which applies to all textbooks, course packs and material that students are responsible for buying — went into effect in July 2010 with the goal of decreasing “the cost of college textbooks and supplemental materials for students while supporting the academic freedom of faculty members to select high quality course materials for students.”

But a large percentage of Brown courses are not in compliance with the law. No textbook information was available on Banner during preregistration, and only 49 percent of courses currently list at least one book, according to a Herald analysis of textbook data on Banner. This means that of the 1,458 courses offered at Brown, 740 do not list any textbook information, which may cause problems for students selecting courses — especially those facing a tight budget.

The Herald’s analysis does not include independent studies, conference sections, thesis courses or courses numbered 3000 or above.

“To the maximum extent practicable, Brown is well aware of the law,” said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. Prior to July 2010, the University “created a space on Banner where faculty could put textbook information … which lists all the prices and all the books,” Mandel said.

But few measures have been taken to ensure that all faculty members adhere to this requirement, with no deadline for posting the information and no penalties for failing to do so.

“We definitely try to get the message out when we talk to faculty,” Mandel said. “But since the law itself does not actually require individuals to do it, but for the institution to do it … faculty are not actually technically required to” provide the information.

For some departments, the percentage of courses with no textbook information available far exceeds the overall average: 80 percent for earth, environmental and planetary sciences, 77 percent for archeology and 75 percent for modern culture and media.

Though there is no formal deadline for faculty members to post this information on Banner, administrators intend to impose one in the future. “We don’t give them a deadline, but we did send out a memo this year, and we intend to do that in the future,” said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12.

McLaughlin said when he and Mandel learned of the low compliance rate when contacted by The Herald last week, they realized they should “start sending out something every semester before the preregistration period.”

“The truth is that we need to put in place some regular reminders to the faculty to post this information, and I’m sure we’ll be doing that going forward,” McLaughlin said. “We assumed that our system was taking care of it, but it hasn’t been.”

Of the 51 percent of courses that do not list any textbooks on Banner, a fraction may not require students to spend money on books at all. Due to rising textbook costs, some faculty members have opted to upload shorter texts — including articles from newspapers and academic journals — to Canvas, where students can access them for free.

But for courses that assign full books — a majority — “knowing what books are listed always helps in knowing the content of the class and what kinds of knowledge is pre-assumed,” said Nicholas Chuan ’18. “The school should mandate that the professors release such information before preregistration.”

-With additional reporting by Emma Jerzyk


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  1. This is really great reporting, BDH. Thanks for being an awesome student news group!

  2. When will Brown learn that maintenance of culture and values, not requirements and systems gets results? (Cough, WRIT, cough)

  3. The graphic is very misleading. Not having any textbooks listed does not mean there was no textbook information given. As stated in your article, some classes simply don’t have textbooks to list. Please provide proper stats to back up your claims. Otherwise it is hard to focus on the article, which is otherwise well written.

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