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those treacherous textbooks October 23, 2008

Filed under: books — katie @ 10:49 am
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In addition to the rising costs of college tuitions at public and private colleges, the cost of textbooks is now beginning to become a critical concern for students and a primary topic for financial studies.

According to a study done by the Department of Education, full-time students at four-year colleges, such as myself, spend an average of $893 per year on textbooks. One unfortunate but very interesting figure from the study is that since 1986, textbook prices have risen almost 186 percent, or 6 percent a year. This is not good news to a student who has to buy her own books each semester.

“We thought the $100 book was going to be the ceiling,” said Madeline Spata, Educational Resource Division Manager for the University of Connecticut’s Co-Op bookstore, where she has worked for 32 years. Spata noticed an increase in the range of 10 percent this year for certain publishers at the UConn bookstore. Now, the most expensive book-package the Co-Op has in stock is a $360 music book that is required for a class. “There has to be an end to this somewhere in sight,” she said about the steady increases in textbook prices. There isn’t a precise figure Spata could give as an average amount UConn students spend on textbooks per semester, but she said the Co-Op usually tells parents the cost will be between $500 – $700.

UConn Co-Op

UConn Co-Op

For students whose parents are paying hefty tuitions as well as room and board, a few books may not seem like a big deal. However for students who are paying their own way through college or for parents who fear every price increase – an extra $700 a semester can classify as one more thing putting college educations out of reach.

Buy-back” is a system that encourages students to purchase their books from the Co-Op, however many students don’t get a noteworthy amount back at the end of the semester.

Many students look to online sources to find books at lower costs. Web sites such as and The Marketplace on Facebook sell many used and new books where there is a wide range of prices, but “there are things we carry [in the Co-Op] that students cannot get online,” said Spata. Books online are not always cheaper, but there is a good selection. The problem with online book shopping is the hassle of finding the right books, and the 2+-week wait-time it takes for students to receive their orders. The convenience factor of bookstores often snags customers regardless of prices.

The high cost of textbooks is now having a direct impact on student’s education. The high cost has now forced many students, including myself, to make the choice to not purchase some textbooks, if they think they can get by without it.  It has been my observation that many students don’t purchase most intro level or “gen. ed.” books because they are so much money, and often aren’t worth the expense.

While some professors are sticklers on what materials are necessary for their courses, many others are sympathetic to the high costs of books and have adjusted their requirements. One of my professors, Professor Kirstie Farrar of the communications department compiled a “reader” for her COMM4035 course, which is a stack of unbound paper containing all of the readings needed for class. “I know what a pain it is to spend nearly $100 on a textbook, especially when you don’t end up needing most of the material,” she said. “So I chose to put together a specific package of material that I knew would be useful for the class.” Farrar’s “reader” is sold in the Co-Op for $60 – still a ridiculous price for a chunk of papers.

Bookstores, including the UConn Co-Op, are currently looking into the possibility of renting textbooks, according to Spata. The issue with this idea is that faculty members would have to commit to a book for a certain length of time and students would have to return it at the end of the semester for no money back, she said.

The prices of textbooks are a major concern for students worldwide, whether they are purchasing them at their convenient school bookstores, or searching the slew of online Web sites that are cropping up to combat the high book prices.