College Students Starting to Resist the High Price of Textbooks

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), September 16, 2003 | Go to article overview

College Students Starting to Resist the High Price of Textbooks


Byline: From Register-Guard and news service reports

When Jill Thompson, a junior at Barnard College in New York, went to the bookstore recently and found that her biology text cost $120, she balked, put the book down and went to her computer to look for a cheaper alternative.

``With the tuition we pay, it's a lot to come up with more than $100 for a biology book,'' said Thompson, a psychology major from New Hampshire. Searching dogears.net, she found a used copy of the required text for $69.

In the past two decades, the price of textbooks has soared. The price of educational books and supplies has risen 238 percent, while the price of consumer goods overall has increased only 51 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index. At four-year private colleges, the College Board found, students spent an average of $807 on books last year. Some students, particularly science and math majors, spent as much as that in one semester.

But more and more, students are fighting back, finding ways to lessen the costs. They are sharing books, using library copies or going online to find cheap used copies. Indeed, about 20 percent no longer buy all their required texts, according to the National Association of College Stores. And that percentage is growing fast enough to worry both textbook publishers and college bookstores.

With steep rises in tuition, college students try to save money however they can, said Jim Williams, general manager of the University of Oregon Bookstore.

A growing number of biology, law, business and other course textbooks cost $100 or more, and Williams said he has noticed more students buying used books, and more sharing of textbooks among students.

Also, students are being more cautious about buying books at the start of the quarter, Williams said. Instead of purchasing all the textbooks for a particular quarter, Williams said, more students wait until later in the term to make sure the instructor will "make good use" of every book on the course booklist.

The disadvantage to that strategy is that the book may be unavailable by then.

Williams, general manager for 28 years, said textbooks at the UO Bookstore are still less expensive than at many other college bookstores in other states. For one thing, the Bookstore is owned by faculty, staff and students, he said.

The absence of a sales tax in Oregon is another plus, Williams said.

Still, the $807 annual average cost for a student's textbooks and supplies, seemed to be roughly the amount UO students spend, he said.

Publishers say the prices of textbooks simply reflect the high costs of producing college texts. Most are niche products, written for a relatively small readership. To stay up to date - and, critics say, to force students to buy new books - publishers often bring out new editions, further limiting sales of used books.

Some legislators are not buying the publishers' arguments.

Last year, in response to complaints from students at Pasadena City College, Carol Liu, chairwoman of the California State Assembly's Higher Education Committee, held hearings on the issue, but none of the invited publishers showed up. Liu's staff is exploring the possibility of using the buying power of California's state colleges to negotiate with publishers for lower prices. …

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