WASHINGTON – As if college students don't have enough to worry about – with increased tuition,term papers and Friday night's hot date – textbook prices are on the rise,according to a report released Thursday.
The report,“Ripoff 101,” concluded that students will spend nearly $900 each this year,or the equivalent of 20 percent of the cost of in-state tuition,on textbooks.
The report's authors say the wholesale price of textbooks has risen almost 33 percent since 1998,well above the 18 percent price increase of other books.
It also cited publishing gimmicks as the No. 1 reason for the steep price increase.
The State Public Interest Research Group's Higher Education Project prepared the report. It is based on a survey of 521 students at seven University of California campuses.
“It's appalling that,while students contend with rising college costs,textbook publishers are playing games to increase textbook prices,” said college freshman Kip Edwards,affordable textbooks campaign coordinator for the University of Maryland's PIRG.
Packaging textbooks with additional materials,publishing new editions frequently and limiting professors' choices are some of the ways publishers have driven up prices.
“After they pay the tuition,parents and students are getting slapped with shocking costs for textbooks in class after class,at school after school,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer D- N.Y.
Schumer proposed a $1,000 textbook tax deduction for families with college students. He was recently shocked when his daughter,a college sophomore,called asking for an additional $600 for textbooks.
“The bottom line is that this is becoming a huge problem,and a deduction will help,” Schumer said.
Half of all new textbooks come “bundled” in packaging with supplemental instructional tools,such as CD-ROMs and workbooks,according to the report. Teachers often do not include the additional materials in class work,but students are not given the opportunity to buy the textbook “a la carte,” the report said.
“I think I played a CD-ROM once just to see what was on it,” said Adam Rosenthal,a senior English student at George Washington University. “I spend just about as much on textbooks as I do on rent.”
In the one instance the report found a textbook both bundled and unbundled,the book by itself was less than half the price of the supplemented version.
To save money,Rosenthal said he tries to purchase used books whenever possible,even though the savings are meager.
“I'll buy them when they're in,but that only helps with about 20 bucks,and that doesn't make a big difference in my student debt,” he said.
However,buying used books is often impossible because professors require students to purchase the most recent edition of a textbook. The average edition has shelf life of 3.8 years.
In a survey of 156 faculty members at 10 colleges in the West,three-quarters of them said new edition textbooks are justified only half the time or less. Often,new editions include only minor changes,but those changes make used books obsolete.
“The publisher only sells the first books,” said Pat Schroeder,CEO of the Association of American Publishers,who attended the news conference as an observer. “The use of used books we have nothing to do with.”
Schroeder said she was disappointed her group was not invited to participate in the study.
“There are many … publishers,and they are in competition,and they are only doing what the professors ask them to,” she said. “The professors are our customers.”
She also noted that,although used books do not usually save students much money,the publishers and authors do not receive money from those sales.
Some students are looking elsewhere for better deals. Steve Wood,a sophomore philosophy student at GWU,found a way around the campus bookstore.
“I buy my books at Amazon or on-line,” said Wood,“because they are so much cheaper.”
Students have also began buying textbooks overseas.
Calculus – Early Transcendentals,5th Edition,sold for $122 in the United States,$96 in Canada and $59 in Great Britain,the report said. The used 4th edition was available to American students for $90 to $100.
Some universities in Wisconsin and Illinois have started rental programs,in which students pay a fee to use a textbook for the semester.