Though the problem of costly textbooks can be traced back to the times of sock hops and soda fountains, the state of the current economy has made the high prices of books more than a fiscal nuisance, but a detriment to the pursuit of higher education.
The 30 percent increase of the cost of college textbooks in the past four years could drive students away from attending a university, a recently released report from the California state auditor said.
“Textbook prices have increased at a rate significantly outpacing that of the median household income, and the financial burden imposed on students because of these rising prices, combined with escalating student fees, increase the likelihood that some students will forgo or delay pursuing a postsecondary education,” the study titled “Affordability of College Textbooks” showed.
While continuous increases in tuition are often in the public eye, some of the 3,410 students interviewed as part of the study reported that their textbook costs exceeded their tuition and in fact accounted for up to 60 percent of their total educational expenses. These students also indicated that they are taking longer to earn their degrees because of the cost of textbooks.
“If students didn’t have to pay as much for books, they would be able to pay for more classes,” said Tanner Peeler, a recent CSUN graduate.
Full-time California State University students spend an average of $812 on books annually according to the study. This is almost half as much as the current CSUN tuition fees.
Though CSUN is trying to alleviate costs to students by requiring professors to use the same materials for at least three years and offering rentable copies of books for certain courses, many students remain unsatisfied with the amount they are spending on textbooks.
“How do you charge $250 for a textbook?” said Brian Anderson, a current CSUN student. “How is it legal to come out with new editions every year when all they change are a couple of sections?”
The state auditor’s study echoes student sentiments and places at least partial blame for rising costs on the bookstores themselves.
Markups that campus bookstores add to the prices further inflate the cost of textbooks, the study showed.
Markups at the nine college bookstores surveyed in the study averaged between 25 percent to 43 percent above the publisher’s cost. The profit from the inflated cost often covers the operating expenses of the bookstore, but students are frustrated over the ballooning costs nonetheless.
“I ended up paying $800 a year on books,” said Peeler. “That’s ridiculous.”
Both students and the state auditor’s study look to alternatives to ease the economic burden books place on students.
“There is no question that we should switch to online resources,” said Peeler. “Not only would it not cost as much, but it would be environmentally friendly too. Even a CD of the book would be better than a hard copy.”
Harry Hellenbrand, provost and vice president of academic affairs, seems to agree. The provost’s current message, an article titled “Fees, Killer Rabbits, and Clickers,” promotes the implementation of the experimental textbook rental policy and the development of “e-materials” as examples of cost cutting measures, if not cures for the problem.
If 50 percent of instructors agree to participate in the textbook rental program, students could save $250. A further $50 could be saved by the wider use of “e-materials,” Hellenbrand said in the article.
While staff, faculty and students alike espouse the possible benefits of “e-books,” the statewide study found that only 13 percent of CSU students had ever taken advantage of that option, and not because of a lack of resources.
Sixty-two percent of students prefer to read their assigned materials in print, the study showed.
The newly-piloted textbook rental program may prove to be the best of all worlds, providing students with a discount and a hard copy of necessary materials.
Whatever the answer to the ever-expanding problem of rising student costs may be, students and administrators are dreaming up imaginative ways for dealing with the high cost of higher education.
“I ended up splitting books with friends. We each paid a little and shared,” said Peeler. “It was like joint custody.”