Franklin County

First target in curbing college cost: book bills

FRANKFORT — A key lawmaker is drafting legislation aimed at lowering college students' textbook bills, which would be the first step in a series of recommendations to make a Kentucky college education more affordable.

Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the newly named House Education Committee chairman, is writing a bill that would require textbook dealers at public universities to break up bundled products, such as textbooks that come with CDs, so that students could buy only what they need.

The legislation also would require publishers to include a summary of revisions to each edition of a textbook so that professors can see the differences before deciding whether to assign a revised version to students.

"Whenever you change editions, then the person who has the old one can't sell them. And the bookstore won't buy them," Rollins said, noting that textbook costs are a huge concern to students.

His bill represents one of the first results of a working group established by Gov. Steve Beshear to figure out ways to expand access to college and make it more affordable.

On Tuesday, the group signed off on its first round of recommendations, which it will submit to Beshear.

In addition to the textbook-related bill, several recommendations can begin to take shape immediately, said Jonathan Miller, the group's chairman and Beshear's Finance Cabinet secretary. They include:

■ Allowing military veterans not from Kentucky to receive in-state tuition rates.

■ Creating a one-stop Web site that can serve as a resource for students to find financial aid information.

■ Encouraging more businesses to provide education and training incentives and benefits.

■ Making public the cost of educating each type of student at public universities in Kentucky, as well as breaking down the various costs college students incur, including tuition, room and board and textbooks.

To gather more information in preparation for a final batch of more specific recommendations that must be given to Beshear in September, the group has ordered several in-depth studies to be conducted by the Council on Postsecondary Education.

"The work that's ahead of us between now and September is quite significant," Miller said.

Members outlined seven key challenges facing Kentucky as leaders try to boost the number of college graduates in the state:

■ Costs of all college-related expenses are rising.

■ Financial aid is often difficult to access.

■ Many low-income students don't receive aid because funds run low.

■ Working adults and non-traditional students have just as many difficulties finding tuition assistance.

■ Prospective students are often overwhelmed by daunting amounts of information and requirements.

■ The college systems still haven't set up a seamless transfer process between universities, particularly for students who move from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to four-year universities.

■ More than half of full-time students fail to graduate within six years of enrolling.

State Auditor Crit Luallen said results of a comprehensive review of all merit and non-merit scholarship and grant programs in Kentucky will be key.

She also said Kentucky should consider an outreach program similar to North Carolina's College Access Corps, in which college students or graduates help shepherd high school students through the college application process.

"In the places where this has been done, it's worked," she said.