At the start of each term, college students are faced with a dilemma: Should I buy the textbook for this class or just try to pull whatever grade I can without it?
We’ve all been there — scouring the bookstore last minute, looking at textbook prices and putting them right back on the shelf.
A single textbook can be priced at over $200. That’s a month’s worth of groceries.
Between 2012 and 2013, the price of textbooks rose by 82 percent— nearly three times the rate of inflation. For many students, buying steeply priced textbooks for four courses each term is simply not in the budget.
It’s a decision between hurting your wallet and hurting your GPA. Students who decide against buying their textbooks know that there is a good chance of their grade being affected in the long run, but it’s a risk many are forced to take.
Textbook prices can also keep students from graduating on time. According to one college study, 47.6 percent of students admitted to taking fewer classes per term in order to save money for course materials.
When registering for the next term’s courses, students often take into account which classes require pricey textbooks and which ones require no outside materials. Even if one class is more major relevant, all else being equal, the more affordable course is often what students end up picking.
Another frustrating issue is the expectation to buy new editions of textbooks every couple of years, whether the subject matter has changed or not. As if one $70 textbook wasn’t enough, publishers use these new releases as “a set of tactics to drive prices skyward” according to the Public Interest Research Group for college students.
Even if students can technically afford to buy the course textbook, they still might try to slip by without it. These outrageous costs are a little insulting, and there are cheaper ways to obtain the material.
Sites like Amazon offer more reasonable textbook prices, but they have their limitations as well. Paywalls and expiration dates are placed on rentals, and used books from online sites are often damaged and scribbled over. But anything beats footing the bill for unreasonably priced course materials that are only used for a couple of months.
Perhaps the best solution for this economic crisis, AKA buying college materials, is open textbooks.
These books are still written and reviewed by faculty, but they are free to download and open to the online public. In print, they are typically available between $20 and $40.
More and more professors have started making their books available online as open textbooks. They understand the financial burden that college creates and that catering to students’ needs is the best way to get them enrolled in the course.
Open Educational Resources is a free site for textbooks to look into the next time you find yourself sweating in the Duck Store at checkout. Other relatively inexpensive sites are Lead Winds and Flatworld Knowledge.
Nobody should have to decide between paying a month’s rent and buying a math book.