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Colleges Look for Ways to Cut Textbook Costs

June 24, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

The cost of books and supplies may not seem like all that much when compared to the thousands of dollars you’re spending on tuition, fees, and room and board, but it’s still painful to drop $100 or more on a textbook you may not even use as often as your professors think. Recognizing your pain, colleges are looking for ways to reduce the costs of textbooks without sacrificing instruction.

At Rio Salado College in Arizona, administrators issued the rule that faculty members must choose one printed textbook for all sections of each course. At most colleges, professors and instructors are able to choose different books for different sections, leading to a rise in cost of those books because colleges aren’t able to purchase them in bulk. At Rio Salado, the school’s relationship with Pearson has allowed them to cut costs even more by promised the publisher it would be the school’s sole supplier. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, those decisions have allowed the college to retail textbooks for about half of what they would have charged under the old system. This kind of standardization wouldn’t work at all colleges, according to the article. Many professors use books they’ve authored, or customized texts based on what they’d like to highlight in their sections.

Elsewhere, campus bookstores have joined the textbook rental trend to respond to students going online to rent print copies of the requisite texts. Even though many students are able to recoup some of the cost of their books by selling them back at the end of the semester, putting down hundreds of dollars up front for a stack of books isn’t easy for anyone, especially a new freshman. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently, colleges had been hesitant about offering the service until now because of high start-up costs and lack of profits, and the fact that rental programs often require professors to keep the same edition of a book for at least four to six semesters. Storage can also be an issue, especially in a survey course that enrolls hundreds of students. Others say e-books will be the way of the future, with more textbook providers going digital and college campuses and bookstores following suit. Many students are already renting digital textbooks to peruse on their iPads and Kindles, according to The Chronicle article. Does your college offer a unique alternative to the traditional campus bookstore textbook purchases?


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