Textbook tears: not worth the expense

Janice Jackson, a music professor at UMBC, held up her hands in surprise in front of her class of fifteen. “It costs how much?” she asked in a tone that held itself in both shock and frustration.

The topic of textbooks had come up in the introductory music course as the students discussed which of them had decided to take the plunge and purchase the required book in UMBC’s bookstore – at a far greater economic burden than the oft-used techniques of buying earlier editions or buying online from not-so-reputable sources.

Jackson articulated this revelatory shock with personal experience. “When I started teaching this class, the book was twenty-five dollars,” she said. The students all began giggling at the seemingly ludicrous idea that a textbook could have once been that inexpensive.

This situation is not unusual. As NBCNews has reported, the price of college textbooks has risen 1,041 percent between 1977 and 2015. This rise can be in part attributed to the way in which students acquire their books. College bookstores have developed somewhat of a monopoly on books required for student’s classes.

Because very few textbook publishers have the rights to the necessary material, they are able to raise prices to exorbitant levels. They do not have to fear losing business if a competitor offering cheaper prices comes along, simply because the lack of rights means there will be few viable competitors.

With this being the current economic state of college texts, many students have turned to alternatives means of acquiring texts, such as renting from Amazon or buying their books used from other online retailers. This jimmy-rigged solution works for the most part, but also presents a need for a more robust solution.

In reality, the books assigned in one semester and the number of students needing those books are not often drastically changed from one semester to the next. With this in mind, if UMBC or its associated entities were to start a depository that allowed students to donate textbooks they no longer need, it could potentially fuel the majority of the book demand for future students. This would help to ease the extra financial burden that many students must face in order to be academically successful.

Given that students often actually do not need or reference the textbooks they acquire from courses they take after the courses have ended, as evidenced by the increasing trend of renting textbooks, getting required course materials this way would not be detrimental to students’ longterm success.

Kira Crone, a social work and psychology major at UMBC said, “For those of us with limited funds, buying textbooks is a real strain on top of all other costs and for most of my classes we hardly even use them. A single textbook can easily be the equivalent of a month of gas and food.”

For students like Kira, the prices of textbooks on campus are not equal to their innate longterm value. Students not only deserve, but need, a better option. Because UMBC has little control over the market prices of textbooks, the university do what it can to mitigate the absurd costs facing students by facilitating the sharing of student resources.