The unfortunate reality of college textbooks

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By Jake Loel

Contributing Writer

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of the semester again. The professors are beginning to load more and more work on their students, while the seniors, with most of their comps and theses behind them, are looking toward graduation plans. For the organized student, this means it’s time to start preparing for finals and looking forward to summer plans. For the rest of us, it means we need to scramble every night to finish tomorrow’s homework, while frantically trying to finalize some type of summer employment opportunity. For the vast majority of University of Dallas students, however, it also means wondering what in the world are we going to do with our textbooks.

In my first semester of freshman year I thought I had the perfect answer. Outside the bookstore, there was a sign advertising something along the lines of “Cash for Books.” I had it made. I marched up to the counter with at least $200 worth of textbooks, expecting at least $75 in exchange. The woman at the checkout desk handed me a $20 bill and a few coins.

I was outraged. How was this a fair exchange? I felt deceived and upset. Although I had no room in my suitcase for books, I wanted my books back.

Fast-forward to this past Christmas break.

I had the routine down. As I went through the book list for my classes, I bought only the books for the classes whose professors I was sure would require them.

Sometimes even buying overused books won’t relieve students from spending over $300 per semester.  -Photo courtesy of Wooderice.com
Sometimes even buying overused books won’t relieve students from spending over $300 per semester.
-Photo courtesy of Wooderice.com

One professor’s class required us to buy a book which is currently for sale on amazon.com for $43.16, which means the bookstore would most likely charge more for it. Since this professor had told us to buy a very expensive book for a previous class, which we never opened, I chose to not fall into the same trap and didn’t buy the book. The rest of the class followed suit.

When the professor found out we did not yet have our textbooks a few class sessions in, he yelled at us. One student later dropped the course.

In college, the professor, not the student, chooses the textbooks to be read for the class. They will often choose the most recent edition of the textbooks, which creates a small monopoly in the publishing companies and encourages them to raise prices even higher. They also come out with a new edition of their book every few years in order to prevent students from buying their textbooks from second- or third- hand sources.

Renting books is a viable option, but it is often almost as expensive as buying and it prevents the student from taking permanent in-book notes, which is a beneficial strategy for some students depending on their majors and learning styles. Moreover, it prevents them from keeping their books, which may be needed for comps or theses.

As students, we have to live with the reality that each semester, the price of textbooks will be expensive. At UD, my experience has demonstrated that even if a student buys the most ragged, overused books from the least trustworthy websites, or if he manages to borrow a few books from friends, he will be spending easily over $300 per semester on average. This means that a lucky, savings-savvy student will pay at least $2,400 on books in his eight semesters, much of which is wasted on books he will never open.

This is the unfortunate reality of the student in America. At UD, by my estimation, we are lucky to enjoy an average textbook price far lower than CollegeBoard’s estimated national average of books and supplies, which is a staggering $1,200 per year. However, it is wholly unacceptable for professors to ask students to buy extremely expensive books they will never open, since there are so few options to make the money back.

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