Opinions & Editorials

Escape From City College: Textbooks drive up cost of college

By Becca Hoekstra
The Guardsman

I’m going to write one word and I expect you all to groan in unison with me:


Paying for classes is enough of a scramble, especially with the incessant budget cuts resulting in ever-rising tuition. And just when it all seems manageable, teachers graciously inform you that the new $150 textbook is absolutely fundamental to pass the course.

With a full load of courses, buying textbooks for each class could result in paying a semester’s tuition twice over.

Students I’ve spoken to have spent anywhere from $300 – $650 on textbooks. Last year, the National Association of College Stores estimated the average student spent $655 on textbooks and supplies—which is slightly lower than previous year but still no less absurd.

The U.S. Public Interest Group estimates textbook costs are comparable to 26 percent of tuition costs at state universities and up to a whopping 72 percent of tuition for community colleges. (Meaning students are shelling out another three-fourths of their tuition price on top of paying for classes.)

A different study by that same group also found that seven out of 10 students refrained from paying for a textbook because the cost was too high. No one knows the academic fallout for students who are unwilling – or more likely – unable to buy the required books, though the majority of students surveyed said they expected to perform worse in the classes they did not have books for.

Textbook publishing companies explain that books cost so much because of writing and production costs – all those large, glossy print color pages and multiple authors and editors all need to be funded somehow.

While this is certainly true to some extent, publishers are also aware that students need specific textbooks, meaning they have total control and zero competition when it comes to price. What is my suggestion to save publishing costs? Stop reprinting the same book once a year with only a few minor updates. Less cost and more resale value for the student.

Many students have turned to buying used books, cheap books on online, e-books, renting books, or downloading them illegally. This in turn forces students to buy new editions more often and causes publishers to raise prices further, while complaining that students’ frugal antics are causing them to lose profits. (Boo hoo.)

A quick note on e-books – they are often seen as a cheaper alternative, costing much less than their printed siblings (although publishers are catching on to this and starting to raise digital text prices). But e-books cannot be resold at the end of the semester, meaning the student may not be saving as much money as they thought. And e-readers themselves don’t come cheap.

Alternatively, there are people out there who have managed to get by spending only $10 on books each semester. There are some alternatives and even hope on the horizon. Obviously, avoid buying textbooks new if at all possible. Hang the publisher’s profits.

City College’s Book Loan Program rents out 3,000 textbooks each semester for free—though there’s a limit of 2 per student and copies run out super-fast. If you have time between classes, the library has copies of almost every textbook on reserve—if yours isn’t there, asking your instructor to make one available will usually do the trick.

Since it’s in the hands of the instructor to pick which textbook is used for the course, they need to be made aware of alternative and cheaper options out there. The first publisher to release open source textbooks for free online, FlatWorldKnowledge.com, provides hard-copies for $20 or $30.

I have one teacher this year who created his own textbook reader, available for only $16 at a copy shop near campus. It would be awesome if more teachers utilized cheap resources like this.

And the grand kicker, just this past Friday the Senate approved Bills 1052 and 1053—which would provide free digital textbooks for the 50 most common lower division classes at UC, CSU and community colleges in California.

Now it’s just up to Gov. Jerry Brown – so use your voice in any way you can to express your approval for these measures.

Having the resources to do well in school shouldn’t cost another arm and a leg – we’re barely able to stand up on our own as it is.

Follow Becca Hoekstra on Twitter @heartbreak_news.

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