Textbooks Continue to Burn Holes in College Students' Pockets

Three years ago while attending Lone Star College, I spent about $130 for a human-relations book and when I was ready to sell it back, I just knew I was going to get back at least $100. They told me they would give me $60. That's it, I thought? I could only imagine they sold the book for $120 as used the following semester.

I don't want to mention how many times I had to scrape up some change to buy a book for my communications class and never used it. That poor book is in the back of my closet somewhere just collecting dust.

I find myself a part of the student body in this war with textbooks. Last Monday students gathered at a press conference in front of the University of Houston North Campus Bookstore to hear results conducted by the TexPIRG Education fund. The survey revealed that the growing costs of textbooks are placing a huge burden on students who are already on tight budgets and wrestling with high tuition costs.

The survey also showed that 65 percent of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. Almost half of those students said the high cost of textbooks determines the number of classes they take each semester.

"This isn't necessarily a university problem, said Sara Smith, program director at TexPIRG. "It's more of an issue we see with textbook publishers."

Over the years the cost for books has skyrocketed and the National Association of College Stores reported that an average student spent about $370 on required materials which included textbooks and $193 on educational supplies, according to their Student Watch fall 2013 report. The College Board stated that the yearly cost of books and material is $1,168.

In a classroom of 30 students maybe four students have their books on the first day of class? With the increasing prices you can't really blame students for not always having their books on the first day.

"So far I've spent $350 and I still have one more book to buy," said University of North Texas senior, Dominique Price. "They're switching the book in the middle of the semester so I'll have to buy another book."

How can a student get passing grades without the book? Sure, they can ask a neighbor to share his book, but what happens when that fellow student doesn't come to class the next day?

There are some professors who have no sympathy and expect you to have books on the first day, no exceptions. There have been numerous times when I had to email my professor and ask for an extension on the homework or borrow the money from Dad.

"I don't care what you have to do, said one of my Spanish professors. "It is your responsibility to get your books."

There are alternatives. Here are some options.

Renting books Websites such as Amazon and Collegebookrenter.com can alleviate the financial stress.They provide the same books at a discounted price and the student can rent the book for a semester.

Library The school library typically has the textbook on hand and the student can make copies of the necessary material. They can also check out the book for a few hours.

Selling books back Once the semester is almost over there are signs plastered throughout the bookstore encouraging students to sell their books back. In some cases students are better off posting their own signs on campus to try to sell the book to other students just to quickly unload the book and possibly score a better deal.

Follett Corporation provides universities, schools, and libraries with books and other educational tools. Including the several Lone Star Colleges here in Houston. They list themselves as the nation's largest operator of college bookstores. Through an email interview, Elio DiStaola, director of public and campus relations for Follet, discussed how some of the money spent can turn into a profit.

"Our bookstores will offer to pay 50 percent of what the student paid for books that have been readopted (selected for use by a faculty member for use during a subsequent term) as long as additional copies are needed for anticipated re-sale," said DiStaola. "Books must be complete, i.e. no pages can be missing, the binding must be intact and the book must be in re-salable condition."

"Titles that are no longer readopted on a campus or those for which the store has sufficient inventory are purchased for textbook wholesalers who recycle them on other campuses," DiStaola continued. "These "Wholesale" prices are textbooks determined by supply and demand, i.e. how many other campuses are using the book and how many copies are currently in the wholesaler's inventory."

"Only current editions have resale value," said DiStaola. "A book that has been out-of-print or replaced by a new edition cannot be purchased by the store."

Go the digital route Purchasing the digital versions of the book can save the student a substantial amount of money. Some students prefer to have the actual physical copy of the book and that is fine and dandy, but you'll be paying upwards of $100 or more just to hold that book. The content is all the same but just will be in a different format.

OpenStax College OpenStax College is a new program that was introduced in 2012 by Rice University to give student's access to free books. The books are peer-reviewed and developed by educators and are available in print or digital format. They believe students will save an estimated $3.7 million by the end of the school year.

"One thing the university could do is encourage faculty to use open textbooks, said Smith. "These are textbooks that can be used free online and be printed by the student at a low cost."

In some cases some professors expect you to purchase a book that is required for the class. By the end of the semester that book is never used and students are stuck having to pay for something that was never used.

"I feel like I wasted my money," said University of Houston senior, Marlene Guzman. "Money that I won't get back even if I try to sell it back."

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