One of the more byzantine mysteries of higher education is the high cost of textbooks financially pinched students are compelled to buy. The issue has been particularly acute at St. Petersburg College, which for years profited handsomely by allowing its students to be grossly overcharged for required textbooks well beyond what students at other Florida colleges paid. In a welcome move on behalf of more than 32,000 students, the SPC Board of Trustees has finally put an end to the price gouging. The trustees have voted to replace longtime textbook vendor Follett Higher Education Group with Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, which promises to keep prices more in line with industry practices.
A 2009 Times investigation revealed that as a result of a poorly structured contract, over a decade SPC students were overcharged $800,000 on textbooks by Follett. The company also tacked on additional freight charges above its comfortable 25 percent profit margin. The deal was good for SPC, too, which pocketed an extra $80,000 off its students in overcharged commission monies.
Upon succeeding Carl Kuttler in 2010, SPC president Bill Law promised to address the textbook debacle. He has followed through on that commitment. Under the proposed terms of the new contract, valued at $16.5 million in annual sales, Barnes & Noble will cap its gross profit margin at 25 percent and eliminate the freight charges. Barnes & Noble will also waive shipping order fees for online sales. SPC also retains a yearly option to protect student pocketbooks by seeking other vendors if future unresolved pricing issues arise.
The new commonsense textbook deal will provide some financial relief for cash-strapped SPC students, who have already received a lesson in greed.