The weight of textbook prices are forcing college students to get creative

Sidney Holmes

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With the price of textbooks rising significantly over the past 10 years, college students are taking the hit in their wallet.

According to a report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Research Group, the cost of textbooks has risen 73 percent since 2006, which is over four times the rate of inflation.

In the report, Ethan Senack, higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Group, stated that this financial burden will persist if the market does not change.

“For many students, high textbook prices mean a lose-lose choice – and as long as the market is controlled by a handful of publishing giants that profit off the backs of students, it’ll stay that way,” Senack said.

Senack said that textbook prices are rising because the textbook market is missing two things: competition and consumer choice. According to Senack, five major publishers control over 80 percent of the textbook market, and each of them avoid competition by focusing on a particular subject.

“In a free market, companies are forced to compete with each other on price, quality, and features in order to accumulate consumers. This competition helps drive innovation and ultimately benefits the consumer,” Senack said.

When it comes to consumer choice, Senack said that students don’t have the option to shop around because the professor is the one who chooses the books.

“And while professors are slowly becoming more price sensitive, the student – the actual consumer – has no say in the book they’re assigned, meaning the publisher is free to raise prices without fear of market repercussion,” Senack said.

Many students struggle with their professor’s choice of textbooks, like Krista Maillet, marketing junior, who has to buy both the physical and digital copy of the textbook for one of her classes because her professor wants the class to get a new textbook in order to get an online access code. Students could just buy an online access code, but they must always have their books in class.

Maillet chose to purchase the online code and print the chapters needed for class in the library.

“The price of the book does not affect my education, but my education depends on whether or not I choose to learn,” Maillet said.

Maillet said that her true attitude towards her education comes from the attitudes of her professors who she said do not always think about the financial situations of their students.

“Some of them realize we don’t have mom and dad to pay for all our stuff,” Maillet said.

One professor who actively shows interest in the financial situations of her students is Trimiko Melancon, associate professor of English, who is experimenting with “paperless, penny-less courses.”

“I have altogether eliminated assigning required books and, in turn, have provided foundational and seminal articles, readings and other literature for my students in electronic form via Blackboard,” Melancon said.

In one of her classes, Melancon said that she bought the three required textbooks for each student in her class. She said seeing students without books in her previous classes inspired her to do this act of kindness.

“It was unsettling and disheartening for me to see them not able to fully engage in the learning process in not owning the books themselves,” Melancon said.

Melancon said that books are a very important part of education, and students should not have to be deprived of a good education if they cannot afford the required books.

“Books costs money and can often serve as a marker of socioeconomic class in that you need capital to purchase them; not having books or money to buy them can inevitably impede one’s progress,” Melancon said.

For other students, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group report said that about 30 percent of the surveyed students used financial aid for books. Students used an average of $300 a semester.

Loyola allows students to use excess financial aid to pay for textbooks. Undergraduates can use up $600, and graduate and law students can use up to $1000 for their textbooks.

Without this financial aid, students are forced to find alternatives to buying expensive textbooks, like finance sophomore Cecelia Tran, who uses many methods to avoid the high prices, such has as price matching and using discount textbook websites.

Tran said that she considers the prices of the textbooks while selecting her classes.

“I look for classes that don’t require a textbook or have a textbook that is available online,” Tran said.

When there are no other options, Tran said that she tries to find a classmate to share the textbook with so that they can split the cost.

Tran said that she understands the importance of textbooks, but she said that is not the most important thing in a class.

“I think it depends on how well the professor lectures. I mostly use textbooks to get through a class when the professor’s lectures aren’t clear to me,” Tran said.

Tran said that the overall the price of the text doesn’t really matter when it comes to quality.

“Older versions of the book are much cheaper but contain about 90 percent of the same content,” Tran said.

There are many movements that are pushing for open textbooks, which allows students to access textbooks with open copyright licenses for free.

Loyola is a supporting member of the Scholarship Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which is working to open textbooks available to all students.

In a statement, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said that open textbooks is the solution to the problem with textbook prices.

“We should promote a system that helps students manage costs by making high quality open textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free,” Durbin said.

Senack said that the U.S. Public Interest Research Group report makes one thing clear.

“We can’t afford to accept the status quo in college textbook publishing any longer,” Senack said.

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