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Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

Rising Costs Have Students Skimping on Textbooks

August 12, 2011

Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a current or soon-to-be college student, you’ve probably heard the saying “Friends, school, sleep: Pick two.” If you haven’t, it means you won’t have time to do everything you want...and sometimes need. While there are students who can balance all three, they have another difficult decision to make at the beginning of each semester: tuition, food or books?

According to survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven out of 10 undergraduate students reported not buying one or more textbooks because the cost was too high. How high? The Government Accountability Office estimated textbooks cost a quarter of the average state college tuition (three-fourths at community colleges) and the U.S. PIRG revealed textbook prices have risen faster than overall inflation with a 22-percent uptick in the past four years. For students, this means some serious money management is in order. "Generally what we get from students is 'Yeah, it's only a few dollars, but it could be my dinner,'" said Jessica Bruning, a student at Iowa State University. "It adds up pretty quickly." The survey also revealed four out of five students said new editions prevented them from purchasing cheaper used books and half cited bundles or custom editions as the culprits for increased costs.

The good news – yes, there is some! – is that groups like Textbook Rebellion, Campus Progress and even individual professors are doing their part to keep textbook costs from negatively impacting students’ college experiences. "Better options are out there," said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs. "Between used books, rental programs and long-term alternatives like open textbooks, we have the tools we need to make textbooks affordable for more students." Have you had to choose between tuition, food or books? What are you doing to keep your college costs in check?


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