Textbook Costs: why new laws won’t cut it

Textbook prices are sky high at colleges and universities and they put a strain on student spending. New laws taking effect as of July require instructors to determine which books to use for their courses early enough so students can shop around for good deals. At the University of Oregon, most classes book requirements are posted at least one month prior to the first day of class. This has been the case for the past four years I was an undergrad. One positive outcome will be the pressure on procrastinating or uncertain instructors who now should have a deadline for making textbook decisions, so the university’s book store can order an appropriate amount of new and used copies.

Typically, my course books cost between $250-$350 per term adding up to about $1,000 each school year. I would always attempt to purchase used copies from the university bookstore, and checked online retailers when only new editions were available. I probably got half of my books used at a 30% discount, but rarely did I find a price online that significantly beat the university bookstore price. That said, I recommend Barnes & Noble to get great quality used books from its Authorized Sellers. I did this a couple times and probably saved $50-$100.

Digital options are not really taking off with GenY students. Despite our unhealthy amount of time spent on our computers, paper and hardcover books are an escape from the screen. No student I know really likes reading 400 pages of calculus, or 1,200 pages of organic chemistry from a 14″ computer screen. Digital eBooks also do not offer much cost savings on the buyer’s side. Publishers have reduced printing costs, but still charge as much as $100 for digital rights. Another drawback of digital is that you cannot easily share a book, or sell it back when you are finished using it. This problem is perhaps one of the biggest. I do not mind shelling out hundreds of dollars if I can get some of that money back when I pass the book on to another student. However, required reading changes so often and varies from one instructor to another, so that brand new edition may not be needed by students the following term. As of graduation, I have more than a dozen textbooks that are outdated or simply no longer being used.

Perhaps many colleges and universities did not have the same systems in place as they were during my four years at the University of Oregon. Those institutions and their students could see some price breaks as more options become available through the campus bookstores. At the University of Oregon, I don’t see these new laws having much of an effect at all. Students will continue to shop around, attempt to resell books and buy only what is required, but in the end an education is just plain expensive.

Read more about how to save money this fall: http://bit.ly/d6HFDc

Textbook tax credit for 2009 and 2010: http://www.textbookaid.org/Summary.aspx

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