Saturday, February 28, 2009

College Life

Bully Bookstores Steal Students’ Lunch Money
By Gabriella Calabro

Between loans, homework, keeping a social life, outside jobs and clubs, students are under a lot of stress; buying books shouldn't be a part of it. It seems that textbook prices have skyrocketed. The Washington Post quoted a 2005 Government Accountability Office report that said between 1986 and 2004, the price of textbooks nearly tripled.

A stack of books like this can cost students from $120 to $400
in just one semester.

Students can find themselves paying well over $100 for just one book. David Linton, a professor at Marymount Manhattan College explained the situation. "Publishers change the editions so frequently,” said Linton. “They claim they do so because the material constantly needs to be updated.”

Several students said one semester’s worth of books can cost anywhere from $120 to $400. Marianne Chirdo, a nursing student, has a credit card that she uses only to buy books. "This semester I was really lucky. I was able to buy everything for about $350, Chirdo said. ”But it gets pretty rough, the most I’ve ever spent in one semester was $600." Chirdo, like many others, is already dependent on as many scholarships and loans as she can get.

Some teachers are even encouraging students to take extreme measures to buy their books.
"If you have to skip lunch for the week in order to buy your book, then that’s what you’re going to have to do. We all have to make sacrifices for our education,” one teacher recently told a Marymount Manhattan College class.

After hearing this Chirdo said, "I'd have to skip breakfast, lunch AND dinner to buy all my books if that were the case.”

Like many others in today's economy, students are doing whatever they can to save money. Some quickly learn tricks to avoid spending astronomical amounts on books. "I was lucky. Some of my teachers e-mailed me a book list before the semester started and I was able to order them online and get cheaper prices," said Marymount freshman Lauren Hafley.

But this is rare, and many students find themselves in a time crunch to get the required reading within a week (if not less). "I had some teachers who didn't tell me what books I needed until the first day of class, and I tried to order most of those books online, said Hafley. “I only had to buy one of my books at the school's bookstore." Hafley has created a system. She is a full time student who managed to only spend about $120 on her books for the semester. She explained: "A lot of my books are novels, so I'll just go to Barnes & Noble, get a drink from the cafe and spend some time reading. It's great because it gets me out of the house, and I don't have to buy all the books."

Other students, like Kate Wallace, find themselves having to do more homework when purchasing books. “I get the syllabus and look over what books we’ll be using the most and how soon we’ll need them,” said Wallace. “Then I take the most popular and recent and look them up online. I have to look at a few websites before I can determine the cheapest price and buy them.”

Doing all this work just to complete their homework could really distract students from their actual assignments. “I spend a decent amount of time buying books, and then of course waiting for them to actually get to me,” Wallace said.

After all is said and done, students can find themselves a good week or two behind in their work just because they have to search, and wait for the cheapest books, which are usually found online.

Why do teachers require students to buy such expensive books?

"A problem is that publishers do not put prices on the books so that when professors get them (free) for examination and potential adoption they have no idea how much they will cost the students and seldom try to find out," said Linton.

It's a cruel marketing trick -- publishers get teachers to fall in love with their books and teachers then require students to buy them. In 2007, a proposed U.S. House Resolution (3512) that would have required publishers to make their prices more apparent for teachers to prevent this problem did not pass.

So are teachers making any effort to help their students save some cash?

Professor Linton says he is. "Due to the easy availability of the course pack special printing, which is usually cheaper than a text, and use of the Blackboard system, I am using fewer texts than I used to,” he said. “In one class I put all reading online so there are no text costs."

Hopefully more professors will begin using these methods so that students will find themselves dealing with one less financial stress.