Textbooks adding another dimension to student debt


My first experience with buying my own textbook was at the beginning of my junior year of high school when I took it upon myself to enroll in a dual-credit history class. The high school picked up the cost of the credits, but it fell upon me to purchase my own books. Needless to say, I was disgusted by the price of a single textbook.

On top of ceaselessly increasing tuition, today’s college students also take on the financial burden of paying for their textbooks. According to the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), textbooks increased in price by 82 percent between 2003 and 2013. And as of 2015, CollegeBoard states that the average student pays as much as $1,300 per year for books and other source materials. This provides yet another barrier college students have to hurdle over. Everyone, from students to professors, should call companies out on their bluff.

The reason that many books costs stay so high is because “companies constantly crank out new editions every year, making older editions obsolete. They can also include “access codes” or passwords that allow the students to complete material-related content online, often required in classes. By inserting these additional features in “bundles,” companies can also justify maintaining high prices for their older material. As the prices add up, many students avoid classes with overly expensive books, or worse yet, take the class and decide not to purchase the materials.

Some companies argue that they charge more for their books and materials because students are receiving high quality products. However, several studies from SPARC are beginning to prove them wrong. 

SPARC supports Open Education Resources, which are reduced-price (or free) resources for higher education. Many education advocacy groups and relief efforts such as Achieving the Dream and Flat World Knowledge offer open textbooks and work materials. Studies at both Houston Community College and Virginia State University support claims that these cheaper resources lead to higher grades and lower withdrawal rates.

Another avenue of action lies in way of congressional intervention. Bills being pressed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-I.L., and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-W.A., would sanction government grants that would make high-quality, low-cost educational materials available to all community colleges and state universities, resulting in millions of dollars saved by students and their families.

Washington state has often been cited as a leader in this respect, as the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges systematically provided inexpensive textbooks for students, with a jaw-dropping $5.5 million saved in just four years. If congress were to nationalize a similar relief effort, they would remove a major deterrent to many young people experiencing fiscal difficulties as well as those willing to go back to school to obtain degrees. 

Benjamin M. Hummel is an english education and speech & communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected]