by Aria Eckersley
Handing over your credit card for a semester’s worth of textbooks is no easy task.
According to The College Board, the average student at a four-year public college will spend about $1,200 on textbooks and supplies in the 2013-2014 school year. Unfortunately, this number has been on the rise. In 2012, University of Michigan-Flint economics professor Mark Perry reported an 812 percent increase in college textbook prices since 1978.1
The Daley Library is making strides to ease the burden of textbook costs on students. The library offers selected textbooks for 100- and 200-level General Education courses on reserve.
The head of Reserve and Media Services, Pia Hunter, reported that the most commonly reserved books are for English, science and economics courses. Hunter explained that she makes decisions about which textbooks to purchase in part on the basis of cost. She also speaks with faculty and students to determine which books are in demand.
As word of the program has spread, the number of textbooks checked out has rapidly increased. In the first semester of the program, fall 2012, books were checked out 702 times compared with 1,757 times in the spring 2013 semester and 2,821 times in the fall 2013 semester.
Hunter explained that the program is not intended to substitute for students purchasing their textbooks. However, it provides a segment of students with competing financial obligations the chance to achieve their academic goals without sacrificing other necessities. The program is also beneficial to students who purchase less expensive, older textbook editions, as they are able to consult the textbook on reserve for changes in page numbers or content.
Two commonly cited reasons for the rise in textbook costs are rapid new edition cycles and textbook “bundling.”
Once a new edition of a textbook is released, students are often expected to buy this latest edition instead of older, less expensive ones. David Klein, an economics major at UIC explained, “A lot of the core concepts of economics have gone unchanged for decades, but professors insist on using the latest edition when the same basic concepts are available in a textbook printed in 2000.”
On average, new textbook editions cost 45 percent more than used copies of the previous edition.2 As new editions are introduced into the market, older editions’ values decrease and students recoup a tiny fraction of their original purchase price when selling these books back.
A 2007 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that textbook price increases are mainly due to publisher’s cost to produce supplemental materials such as CDROMs and online content.3 Publishers “bundle” by shrink-wrapping these materials in with a textbook. If online access and codes expire after a semester, the value of the accompanying textbook declines at that point. Bundling often causes the value of used textbooks to decrease as the demand for new textbooks increases.
The effect of textbook costs on students is cause for concern. In January 2014, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released a report that surveyed more than 2,000 students at 156 colleges in the fall of 2013. The report revealed that 65 percent of the students said they did not buy all of their required textbooks due to their cost. Ninety-four percent of those who did not buy all textbooks reported that they were concerned about how doing so would affect their grades. Additionally, about 48 percent of students reported that textbook costs influence their choices about which classes they take and how many they register for.4
In light of these effects on students, Hunter noted, “Library staff get instant gratification to be able to provide something in a moment of need. And the students are excited about it, too: instead of handing over a credit card, they can simply hand over their iCards — a great bargain for the latest textbooks!”
For questions about specific titles on reserve in the Daley Library, inquire at Reserve and Media Services; or contact Pia Hunter (email@example.com or 312-996-2719); or search Course Reserves in the Library’s online catalog.