High textbook costs continue to burden students

By Nick Squires
Contributing Writer

With the rising cost of textbooks, many students are looking for alternative ways to purchase books without straining their already tight budget.

“I’ve spent $225 on books for 12 units,” said Angela Penny, a City College student, who is studying video editing and production. “My books cost more than my classes.”

In 2005, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report to Congress focusing on textbook prices. The GAO concluded textbook prices have risen an average of 5 percent between 2003-2004, and explains the price increase is due to the addition of supplemental material to textbooks making them “bundled” packages. These bundles can include a CD-ROM and access to web programs designed to keep up with the advancement of technology in classrooms and help part-time teachers with additional teaching support.

New bills such as the Higher Education Act, signed into law on August 14, 2008, were introduced to help explain and remedy the high price of books. The act requires textbook manufacturers to provide students with full textbook pricing information in order to budget for each semester. The bill also ensures that colleges and faculty will have wholesale textbook pricing information when ordering for the next semester, and requires publishers to provide “unbundled” options for “bundled” materials.

This trend of adding supplemental material to textbooks is likely to continue. At City College, the majority of foreign language textbooks contain such supplements — from student activity manuals to DVDs.

Supplements are not easily identified as necessary by book buyers. They hinder students chances of selling a textbook bundle back to bookstores at the end of the semester and effect the amount of used copies of a textbooks available. With textbook manufacturers revising editions every two to three years, students are required to purchase these bundles in order to study the new editions.

“The prices of textbooks seems out of proportion to the size of the book,” said Brenda Kahn, a City College journalism instructor. “Many students have trouble locating books for class.”

The prices of textbooks, regardless of bundling, are still unaffordable for some students. “I’m taking just two classes because that’s all I can afford. I guess I will have to hope my teacher doesn’t use the book much,” said Amy Donaldson, a medical studies City College student.

“Rip-off 101,” a 2005 report by The State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) Higher Education Project outlined the high price of textbooks stating “The average student will spend nearly $900 each year purchasing textbooks.” This report also concluded textbook prices are rising at more than four times the inflation rate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a Senate bill called the Textbook Affordability Act, which would have lowered textbook prices and extended the length of time a textbook edition would be available to college faculty in favor of the Textbook Transparency Act. The Act will provide college faculty with a detailed list of changes between one edition of a textbook to the next and will go into effect in 2010.

“This bill [Textbook Affordability Act] focuses strictly on textbook publisher policies and fails to recognize that the affordability of textbooks is a shared responsibility among publishers, college bookstores and faculty members,” Schwarzenegger said via a letter to the California State Senate.

At City College libraries, the Associated Students (AS) Book Loan Program provides students with free textbooks. It is available to all students but is targeted toward low-income students with first priority given to those receiving financial aid. The program stocks books based on criteria usefulness to the greatest number of students, usually general education and books for transferable classes, according to the AS. However the selection is small and does not cover many classes.

“Students need to remind teachers to deliver books to the reserve section of the library,”  saidSirious Monajami, librarian at the City College Mission campus, speaking about the all City Colege libraries. “Our number of on-reserve books is growing but still small.”

The Campaign to Reduce Textbook Costs affirms textbooks costs is a major issue for middle and low income students. They offer an alternative in “Open Textbooks”, free online versions of common college textbooks. Examples are available at

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