With the prices of some textbooks about as high as a monthly trip to the grocery store, students have said they are feeling more reluctant to dig into their wallets to pay the extra cost for their educations — and now there’s a survey to back them up.
According to “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” a report published January by the non-profit organization USPIRG, the cost of textbooks for two semesters at a university amounts to about 20 percent of in-state tuition nationally — about $1,200 annually.
David Moya, a statistics major, said textbooks are often not needed for classes.
“Usually what happens is I buy the book and then I’ll end up not using it for the class,” he said. “That happens a lot. I’m a junior, and it’s happened with every semester.”
Moya and Jeremy McConaha, a senior in electrical engineering, said they check textbook prices online to find the best deals.
“The prices are crazy; they are way too high, especially from the bookstore. You can go online and get them a lot cheaper,” McConaha said. “Unless it’s some special UNM edition … but I might borrow it from somebody if I can.”
The report, based on a survey of 2,039 students from more than 150 different university campuses, found that high costs have deterred 65 percent of students from purchasing textbooks. The report goes on to claim that nearly half of students surveyed said textbook costs had an impact on the number of classes they took each semester.
The report also states that 82 percent of students said they did “significantly better” in courses in which the textbook was available for free online.
According to the UNM chapter of NMPIRG’s website, “Not only is the open textbook an ideal alternative to a traditional textbook from a student point of view, but it is the only product in the marketplace that can directly challenge the high prices that publishers charge for new editions. These high prices, which outpace inflation, underpin the entire textbook marketplace, and drive market conditions for other alternatives such as the used book and rental markets.”
Editor’s note, Feb. 11, 2014, 10:56 a.m.: These two paragraphs were omitted from the originally published article.
UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah said the administration is aware of the high-cost of textbooks and is working on ways to lessen the cost to students, but these solutions often require many people working together.
“We are greatly concerned about the rising cost of textbooks and its effect on our students. Solving this problem, however, will require the effort of many in our university and community, and from leaders in our local, state, and federal governments,” he said.
One of the initiatives to help students is the new “Dare to Compare” website, located at unm.verbacompare.com.
“Dare to Compare” allows students to select the required texts for their classes and see the prices at the Bookstore, ebook vendors, Amazon.com and other online sellers, and purchase their selected books all at once.
Faculty members are also aware of the problems, but taking action can be difficult, said Jon Williams, who teaches sociology.
“I’ve done the textbook thing and now I’m kind of anti-big publisher,” he said. “Then again, it takes time to accumulate the material to have it on .PDF … but I’m probably heading in that direction.”
Other professors, such as visiting philosophy professor Matthew Carlson, view textbooks as invaluable teaching tools.
“The book is an integral part of the lecture,” he said. “You wouldn’t do well in any of my classes without the book; just the way the course is set up, it wouldn’t really work.”
Carlson said he does not make students purchase unnecessary materials, but added that textbooks, especially for the sciences, come at almost extortionate prices.
Jessica Feezell, a visiting assistant political science professor, said she gives her students textbook options so they can easily acquire them online.
“I have free choice in which textbooks I want to assign, but particularly for American politics I haven’t found an open-source textbook,” she said. “If I did, and it was good enough, then I would be happy to assign it.”
To see the complete survey from NMPIRG visit uspirg.org/reports.