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Why Are College Textbooks Breaking the Bank?

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She scrambles in her purse looking for her wallet. The line is getting longer. Letting out a sigh as she reaches the register, she puts her item on the counter. She swipes her credit card leaving her total of $320 to be tackled later.

No, she did not buy herself an iPhone 6s. She purchased a textbook at a university bookstore. I wish being a college student wasn't synonymous with being broke, she thought.
A survey of 50 Adelphi University students conducted in November 2014 found that 42 percent of students have at one point been unable to afford purchasing or renting a textbook. Between 2002 and 2013, the price of college textbooks across the nation rose 82 percent, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

Why Are Textbooks so Expensive?
The extra expense of supplies have made college costs even more burdensome for students and their families. Some students believe that campus bookstores are responsible for these costs. "Upcharges are ridiculous," said one survey taker. "I never buy a textbook from campus."

According to the survey, 94 percent of students prefer to get textbooks from outside sources. Amazon, Chegg and Ebay offer more reasonable prices for low budget students. But, when a student needs a book in a short amount of time and cannot wait for delivery, they are forced to spend the extra buck on campus.

"The publisher determines the price," said Adelphi University bookstore manager Reshma Patel. "Publishers on average raise their prices to the bookstore at least once or twice per year."

New volumes and editions drive the increase. Publishers link their costs to writing, editing and production - factors that are out of a university's control.
Although some bookstores offer up to 50 percent buy-back at the end of the semester, if a new edition has already hit the shelves, the value of the book being returned is considered much less. "Publishers release new editions of textbooks not to improve content, but to discourage the sales of used books by making them seem obsolete," said Erwin Cohen, a former editorial director of Academic Press.

The bookstore offers rentals at a fixed price for a whole term. Some survey takers proposed that rentals be offered cheaper for shorter amounts of time. Allowing them to take out a book only if necessary. "It's a possibility. We're always looking for ways to save students money," said Reshma. "Just last year, we were allowed to include more titles as rentals."
Students Pick and Choose: Are Books a Necessity?

A student newspaper at the University of South Florida ran an editorial saying that when students confront high prices, they are faced with the choice of reducing the value of their education by not buying the book. With only 58 percent of students being able to afford textbooks, the others are forced to pick and choose which classes they will buy for. Some even consider not taking certain classes if they require more than one text.

Whether it's sharing pictures via social media, or making photocopies from a friend's book, students find a way around it. "I never buy a book anymore," said another survey taker. "I borrow them from other people or look them up online through PDF."
According to the survey, only 26 percent of students needed books they did not purchase. If the professor has taught the material to its fullest during the class time, some believe that a textbook wouldn't enhance their learning.

"Most professors who require readings just reteach that material in class, so I don't read," said a survey taker. "In theory, I'd rather sit in class and have a productive conversation."

Do Professors Care?

Professors have the option to assign specific texts through the eCampus system allowing students to plan accordingly before a semester starts. They even state the required materials on their syllabus. This would lead one to believe that the book would definitely be needed.

According to the survey, 90 percent of Adelphi students have purchased or rented a textbook that was not used throughout the course. "Why should professors have the book listed if we don't need it," said one survey taker. "The amount I spent could have been saved and applied to my loans."
Some professors are aware of how expensive books are nowadays. Some have had students who were unable to afford the language text and lent their own copy directly to the student.

"The textbook is an important tool as it presents detailed materials in a structured form," said Adelphi University professor Elena Luongo. "But I also believe that it shouldn't be the only resource. Professors should also use hands outs, feel free to modify, change and add in order to ensure a more complete understanding and provide the most up-to-date information."
Improving Student Resources

Renting and using digital copies can save a student up to 60 percent. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount that can be provided and not every student will be accommodated. Alternative resources like articles and journals can be put on e-reserve through your universities library database.

The Open Textbook Initiative used by State University of New York libraries provides textbooks to be browsed freely on the Web for students of all universities. Recently more libraries added some of the open SUNY textbooks to its catalog.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like textbooks will be free anytime soon. In the meantime, check out rental sites and your schools policy on rentals and database resources.
The struggle is real.

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