Rising costs spark new trends in how Students use textbooks

The rising costs of textbooks are pushing students to find alternative means of acquiring their required materials both legally and illegally, if at all.

A small informal sample of 75 randomly selected Saddleback College students revealed that less than half of the students had actually bought the required textbooks assigned by their instructors and only a few of the students who bought their books got them on campus at the bookstore.

According to an August 2013 USAtoday.com report and the 2014 Consumer Price Index released in 2014, costs for new textbooks have risen on average about six percent each year for the past decade and 82 percent since 2002.

This has driven some students to weigh the risk of their grades suffering without the material versus the cost of their books.

Samuel Hall, 24, a speech communications major is a Saddleback College sophomore who is currently weighing that risk to save money.

“Honestly, my teachers say reference the book but so far I’m getting A’s and B’s in my classes,” Hall said when asked why he hadn’t bought any books this semester. “The tests are more about the lecture and I’m in debt enough.”

In the digital age the lone option of the campus bookstore is a thing of the past now that students can compare prices on websites such as Amazon.com, Chegg.com, or Textbookrush.com the majority of students claimed to do.

On campus, students have the option to buy new or used, or to rent the materials for the semester either in store or online to cut time in lines.

Other sites like Craigslist.com or the student bulletin board near the bookstore for books being sold by students who have either completed or dropped the course are some examples.

Students are also scanning and printing classmates’ texts to avoid the costs, but most are just depending on lecture material to pass their courses, like Sofia Miranda.

“I was told to buy books by my professors and I didn’t to later find out that they wanted us to buy them just in case,” Miranda, 19, an environmental studies major said. “The only reason they wanted us to buy books was just in case for like studying and the final, but there’s no point to that because I already had all my study materials in lecture so I don’t need a book.”

The campus bookstore, which is operated by Follett was contacted but unavailable for comment on whether or not the new trends have affected their numbers on campus.

But it is important to point out to students that the funds brought in by sales at the Saddleback campus bookstore bring in about 60 percent of the budget for co-curricular programs, like Art Lecture series or the Red Ribbon Substance Abuse Criminal Justice Career Fair, and 40 percent of the budget of funds allocated by the ASG grant process for campus life programs and events, like Earth Week and the Day of Silence, said inter-club council advisor and senior administrative assistant Erin Long.

The revenue generated from the bookstore also helps finance scholarship programs for students who are in financial need like the book loan program which this year has $20,000 for students to help them with the costs of books and over $100,000 total in scholarships available to students according to the 2013-2014 ASG adopted student budget report.

“I appreciate that students are being fiscally responsible with their funds,” Long said concerning students finding alternatives. “Remember that there are scholarships opportunities available to students that can’t afford books because of the bookstore.”

The Internet has also provided another alternative to the required texts in community colleges in the form of Youtube.com and multiple online tutoring services such as Lynda.com. Students can use these free and paid sites to gain the information that would be in the required texts in many cases and in a few cases the sites will have the exact homework assignments that have been assigned.

This presents both an issue and solution as the information is readily available, but so are the answers without the proper understanding of the material for students looking for a shortcut in their education.

Some students in the informal survey even admitted to turning to Internet piracy to avoid the costs of their materials by using peer-to-peer sites such as The Pirate Bay or Isohunt where users can transfer both copyrighted and free-to-share digital files with one another.

Reports, like those on ABC Eyewitness News and in The Chronicle of Higher Education, have been emerging over the past few years linking the rising costs of textbooks to illegal downloads by college students. Though this is not entirely a new concern for campuses. The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 was signed into law by President Bush in August 2008 and went into effect during the summer of 2009 that requires colleges to: provide an annual disclosure to students describing copyright law and campus policies related to violating copyright law, offer a plan to “effectively combat” copyright abuse on the campus network using a “variety of technology-based deterrents,” and an agreement to “offer alternatives to illegal downloading.”

Colleges across the country, including all SOCCCD campuses,  have complied by adding software, regulations and policies in place to prevent on campus downloads as well as to hope to curb at home downloads. According to the Saddleback College Student Handbook, “unauthorized recording, dissemination, and publication of academic presentations or materials” and “contravention of copyright laws” are against the Code of Conduct.

Some professors and colleges have gone a step further in their effort to battle Internet piracy and in some cases to fight the rising prices by using online sites such as aplia.com, pearsonmylabandmastering.com and Newu.org to provide content for their students throughout the semester with assignments and a digital copy of the book for free or for less than a copy of the printed text or will simply provide all the needed material through handouts and from notes in lecture.

“It was just all online articles that we would read and then there would be questions at the end of it,” Austin Curtis, 19, a horticulture and landscaping major said about his English 1A course, which is essential for transferring. “So there was never a point that we actually had to open our books to read something and answer it.”

Certain professors recommend buying or renting the previous edition of the text instead of foregoing the required materials and risking the chance of falling behind in the course.

“I think that books have really gone up a lot and its really unfortunate, I also try to say you can do an edition behind the last edition. If you do the last edition then it will cost you about $10,” humanities and philosophy department chair Basil Smith said. “If they can do it cheaper, but that’s an academic decision based upon the difference in the editions, then that’s OK. If not, then the bookstore gets the nod.”

Virginia State University’s business school, Daytona State College and smaller online programs have considered turning to e-books sold only at their respective campuses to help bring in revenue. The issue with selling only digital copies is that students who can’t afford an iPad or tablet don’t have the technology for the use of an e-book on campus or some simply prefer a printed copy.

Results from the 2011 Student Watch studies and the OnCampus Research Student Panel as reported by the National Association of College Stores Foundation found that 74 percent of students prefer print editions for learning and that only around 23 percent of students actually use a tablet or e-reader for their materials.

The shift to the digital format is apparent here on the Saddleback campus though as the majority of students from the informal survey said that they had used at least a form of an e-book such as a PDF or one of the aforementioned websites.

“Besides the price it’s about availability, because some of them like my math book it’s click, download right then and there to Kindle,” Alex McKernan, a rapid digital design major said. “It’s $60 instead of $170 and it’s click and download.”

A January 28 USNews report found “in a survey of more than 2,000 college students in 33 states and 156 different campuses conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that the average student spends as much as $1,200 dollars a year on textbooks and supplies alone.”

Both the survey reported by US News and conducted at Saddleback found that nearly half of all students surveyed said the cost of textbooks affected which or how many classes they choose to take each semester.

While Saddleback and other college students are pursuing their educational goals they are certainly paying a premium for their materials if they decide they are necessary.

With multiple surveys on campuses around the country finding that the majority of students are no longer purchasing their required texts with the options available to them online, legally and illegally, the question of what can be done to make texts more affordable to make sure that students have the materials needed to succeed and to increase revenue that the colleges could put back into student programs and scholarships should be asked immediately.

“People don’t take into account how much stress is really worth, so you have to juggle stress versus money,” Hall said.