Students already faced with keeping up in classes, maintaining a job during tough economic times, and surviving on their own away from home have another worry dangled over their heads: the ever-rising cost of textbooks.
“Students are pretty savvy about finding places to buy textbooks,” said Jeanne Flora, associate professor and chairwoman of the department of speech communication at the University of La Verne.
“I borrow the book from someone or if I really, really need it [buying it] is a last resort,” said senior business major Shannon Jones.
According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the cost of textbooks has nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising an average of 6 percent a year. Students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks.
“I’m planning to buy two out of three books this semester. Last semester, I bought all my books and it was like $500,” said freshman Michael Lopez.
Many students are taking advantage of the low cost of used textbooks.
Sales of used textbooks grew 15 percent to $2 billion last year, according to Simba Information, a market research group.
“The majority of students are interested in getting the used copies. It saves them 25 percent,” said Derek Dioses, University of La Verne Bookstore Manager.
“I think buying used books is a lot better. You save yourself a lot of money,” said freshman criminology major Rosabla Alaniz.
At the University bookstore, biology textbook “Living in the Environment” by Tyler Miller costs $174.25 new and costs $130.75 used.
However, Amazon.com sells the same textbook from $103.93 for a new copy and starts as low as $80 for a used copy.
The bookstore also does have great deals on books like “Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction” by Kim Knott.
This book sells for $11.95 new in the bookstore and $9 used. On Amazon.com, the book costs $9.56 for a new copy and starts at $4.99 for a used edition.
However, buyers must also factor in the costs of shipping.
“We are the one-stop shopping spot for the campus. We have all the required books for the instructors. We are here for refunds as opposed to an online distributor,” Dioses said.
Students are selling back their books after the semester is over as another way to save money.
A book in good condition usually brings back 25 percent of the original price.
“I bought around six [books] for the first semester. The bookstore gave me not even half of what I paid for them during buyback,” Alaniz said.
Good news for students is on the horizon, though.
The frightening rise in textbook prices is recognized and some lawmakers are working to help keep textbooks affordable.
In California this past year, colleges backed several initiatives to promote online course materials.
Publishers and entrepreneurs are stepping up the release of electronic textbooks, which are much cheaper than a typical textbook.
Thirty-four states have introduced bills to try to curtail the skyrocketing price of textbooks.
So far, only six states have approved such bills.
Some states require that pricing information of textbooks be more widely available.
In Connecticut, for example, publishers are now required to provide pricing information to faculty before the professors put in an order for books.
Those in support of this measure believe that faculty members’ increased awareness of book costs will make them consider their course requirements carefully.
“In certain classes, I am able to give students an option of using an older edition of the text,” Flora said.
In July, Congress passed legislation that will force publishers to sell a textbook separately rather than packaged with a CD or workbook that makes for a more expensive purchase. However, the provisions do not take effect until 2010.
Megan Sebestyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.