Hodge: Colorado State University monopolizes textbooks, needs to reform policies

Jayla Hodge

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Buying textbooks and supplies can be stressful for any college student. If you are like me, you are familiar with the feeling in your gut when you look at the prices. Students all over this campus and country are hard pressed to spend big money on textbooks or are simply forced to forgo buying them at all.

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According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, since 1977, the cost of textbooks has risen 1,041%. The College Board found found that the average student at a four-year public college spends $1,200 on “books and supplies,” or $1,250 at a private university. This study shows that students are captive consumers and will generally buy whatever text has been assigned to them. We need to change this by using more affordable resources.

Another survey, released in 2014 by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, revealed that 65% of students have been forced to opt out of buying a college textbook due to high prices. Of those students who reported opting out, 94% say they suffered academically. For low-income students who are already struggling to stay in school, expensive textbooks makes pursuit of higher education practically unattainable. Without proper class resources, disadvantaged students become more disadvantaged as they fall behind in classes.

Textbooks are not sold in a free market, which means they do not have to compete with one another based on price, but quality. It is no longer uncommon to spend $300 or more on one textbook. This allows publishers and middleman suppliers, like CSU’s bookstore, to make a profit off students. With tuition and student fees already so high, additional required spending is ridiculous.

CSU’s bookstore does not offer many accommodations to students who cannot afford the high cost of textbooks. It was only $5 dollars cheaper to rent my $60-dollar book from the school. In my and other student’s personal experiences, the textbook buy-backs average is less than 10% of the original cost. Price and ethics around the textbook industry are strongly up for debate, as well as the practice of professors listing their own books as required text.  

Universities and publishers are benefiting from skyrocketing prices. By requiring students to have the newest editions of textbooks—editions that are difficult to find used or from outside sellers—they are creating a high chain of supply and demand. When students can only find a required textbook brand new in the bookstore, that is where they will buy it. If a professor requires their own textbook be used, ethics are added to the equation. This is a monopoly built on taking advantage of students.  

Companies and online market places like Amazon and Chegg.com are creating an open textbook-source market by helping students save money on new, used, electronic, and discounted textbooks. This still doesn’t get rid of the fact that required textbooks often cannot be found in the correct issue on these websites depending on the professors preference.

While the publishers do determine how much it cost to produce a textbook, our Universities have the capability to provide more for their students and start the transition to alternate resources or more affordable materials. Publishers claim the newest editions are higher in quality and new information. This is not always true, but in some classes it is still required to have the newest version. Most new editions come out about every 3 years, so usually they are not significantly different. Plus, with internet access and online resources, finding updated information is simple.

Price and usage of our required materials are other factors to be considered. We’ve all had a class that required a textbook which was hardly ever used, or even opened at all. It is the responsibility of our professors to determine whether a textbook is necessary for class and advancing learning.  Students don’t need to buy a textbook when the professor already provides essential information. Textbooks should be suggested, not required. 

Several professors have voiced concerns about the price of textbooks. Mike Humphrey, a journalism professor and Forbes contributor says,“textbooks are priced in a way that does not favor the students,”  Like Professor Humphrey, some teachers are starting to provide all required materials to students online, or opt to use an older edition of a textbook.  

There are options to check out a textbook in the library, which allows students to rent a textbook for up to 2 hours at a time. But, as one CSU political science professor (who wished to remain anonymous) stated in class, they could only provide 2 textbooks to the library for checkout. In a class of 100 plus students, just one section out of 3, that doesn’t always mean textbooks will be available.

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Professors and universities need to introduce stricter policies around textbooks and materials that are in the best interest of students.The bottom line is that the University functions as a business; they make money off of students’ backs. In return, we must start demanding more cost-efficient options from our school, because for some students it is not only necessary but extremely overdue. We must continue to question the ethics of monopolizing textbooks to ensure our students are being educated equally.

Jayla Hodge can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @Jaylahodge.