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Committee looks at ways to reduce textbook costs for students

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Michael Sonnleitner and a cast of many led a committee that developed ten ideas to help PCC make buying textbooks more affordable to its students.

Costs for college are rising everywhere, but at PCC efforts are underway to help make college affordable. A survey undertaken a year ago revealed textbook costs to be the number one concern of PCC students. The squeaky wheel got some grease as the Educational Advisory Council (EAC) formed a Textbook Task Force (TTF) which would recommend ways by which the cost of textbooks and other publisher-produced materials could be reduced.

In the fall of 2005, Rhonda Smythe (student government senator) and Michael Sonnleitner (instructor in political science at Cascade and Rock Creek) were appointed co-chairs of the TTF.

“This was an historic event as no student had ever served as a co-chair of an EAC committee before,” said Sonnleitner.

Both collaborated to have a total of 12 Textbook Task Force members approved, including an equal number of students, faculty, and other staff or administrators. The TTF added to its innovative tradition by agreeing to make all decisions by a “consensus” mode in which even one TTF member could block any recommendation from being made.

“We talked until no one seriously disagreed,” said Sonnleitner.

By mid-June of 2006 the TTF had met ten times, incorporating feedback from campus forums sponsored by the Teaching Learning Centers at all three PCC campuses as well as from the EAC and numerous other sources. As co-chair, Sonnleitner estimates he devoted at least 120 hours towards creating a total of 20 recommendations. The first 10 were “Recommendations to Faculty and SACs” and were approved by the EAC on March 15.

The second 10 were “Recommendations to PCC as an Institution.” Of these ten, five were EAC approved in June 2006: including a commitment to creating a more effective textbook order form, an administrative evaluation of the Bookstore mandated contribution to the general fund by reducing mark-ups on textbooks while opposing any move toward privatization, and improved support for PCC Book-Buying Scholarships.

The five remaining recommendations, including the establishment of a PCC Copyright Office and issues involving PCC employee ethical standards relating to accepting financial compensation or gifts from publishers, are slated for EAC discussion during the Fall of 2006.

“The Textbook Task Force was a good experiment and may serve as a precedent for future committees,” said Sonnleitner. “In my opinion, students need to be given substantial decision-making weight. That was just as exciting as the issues we were dealing with.”

In addition to its co-chairs, the TTF included Colin Fleming (Rock Creek ASPCC student), Kerr Mahnke (Cascade ASPCC student), Christine Teh (Sylvania Multicultural Center student), Sheila Afnan-Manns (Sylvania Library) , Phil Hess (Sylvania Financial Aid), Joyce Morrison (Sylvania Bookstore), Diane Mulligan (Sylvania Dean of Students), as well as faculty members Ed De Grauw (Sylvania, Biology), Maribel Pinas-Espigule

(Rock Creek, Spanish), and Scott Quinn (Sylvania, Computer Information Systems).

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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