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Outrageously Priced College Textbooks: Options are Available

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If you’ve never had to purchase a college textbook—which are typically necessary to pass courses and often required by professors —you might be unaware how outrageously expensive they are these days. According to the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups, college students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks— which is approximately 20 percent of tuition at an average university and half of tuition at a community college. The Washington Post reported similar estimates in 2008, claiming that students spend anywhere from $700 to $1,100 annually on textbooks, figures that will definitely open your eyes.

Price of College Textbooks has Tripled in Recent Years

According to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office, the price of textbooks nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004, increasing an average of 6 percent a year— while inflation rose only 3 percent! When you consider that college students are normally … well, broke, to put it nicely— and believe me, I’ve “been there, done that” and broke is an accurate description—it’s hard to imagine how anyone can afford to pay for these books.

Things might be looking brighter.

Colleges Must List Required Books at Registration

Thanks to a new law that took effect this month, colleges will be required to release required book lists at the time of class registration. In the past, it was common practice for schools to only let students know which textbooks they’d need for their courses at the beginning of the semester, which often forced them to purchase their textbooks at the college bookstore for full price, but the Higher Education Opportunity Act hopes to change that.

However, USA Today reported that Charles Schmidt, spokesman for the National Association of College Stores, or NACS, claims that college bookstores are confident that they can remain competitive.

A July 29, 2010 PR Newswire press release from the NACS reports that college bookstores are in fact stepping up to the plate to help keep the cost of textbooks as affordable as possible by offering students a variety of choices—including books in new or used condition, rentals, or downloadable electronic textbooks for computers and e-readers.

The NACS claims that when students buy used books at the actual college bookstore – as opposed to purchasing them online —they do not experience lengthy shipping waits or unexpected handling charges. They also can be confident that they are getting the correct edition of the textbook while being protected by the store’s clearly defined return policy if they have to drop a class.

Rent Your Textbooks Online

On the other hand, Dan Rosensweig, CEO of the textbook rental site Chegg.com feels the new law will get more students interested in his service. Chegg offers students the ability to rent textbooks for considerably less than their actual purchase price, receive them via UPS, and ship them back for free when their course is over. Additionally, every time a student rents a book, Chegg plants a tree through the American Forests Global ReLeaf program. So far, Chegg has planted over 4,000 acres of trees!

Other similar textbook rental sites exist, and Barnes and Noble, which operates more than 600 campus bookstores across the country, also offers online textbook rentals for most of their schools. Many students will continue to purchase their textbooks on campus, as the NACS is hoping, but more and more of them are turning to the internet to find bargains.

The Open College Textbook Act

Michigan State University’s online student newspaper, StateNews.com, published an article on July 28, 2010 that claims textbooks might become a lot cheaper for students across the nation if the Open College Textbook Act, bill in the U.S. Senate introduced in September 2009, becomes law.

It would provide one-year grants to universities and professors to produce quality textbooks that would be available for free online. Under an open license, professors and students could visit the website and access the books, creating a cost-free alternative to traditional textbooks that can cost hundreds of dollars each. The legislation also would establish a review board to ensure the textbooks produced are accurate and of high quality.

The bill was introduced by Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois after he became concerned about the increasing cost of textbooks after visiting college campuses and talking to students across Illinois.

Sounds great, but don’t get your hopes up too quickly—StateNews.com also says that “Due to other pressing concerns in the Senate, students likely will not see free textbooks gracing their syllabi this year, but Durbin is willing to consider any method of passage.”

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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Bob J over 7 years ago Bob J


Renting textbooks is a cheaper way if you follow a few rules. 1) Most important - dont loose your book. You will find yourself paying both the rental and the replacement cost. 2) Dont return it late - if they can not re-rent it the rental co lossed big time and there late fees can get very expensive 3) Compare prices - with over a dozon big name sites offering rentals be sure to compare the prices and shipping. A price comparison tool like Cheap-Textbooks.com makes this job easier. 4) read the terms & conditions - dont just check the box that says you read it, Read IT! This is a 4 month contract that covers what you can and CAN NOT do with the book.