It’s not news to anyone that textbooks are among a student’s biggest expenses. But some of us have figured ways around paying the high prices.
This fall, I coaxed my freshman sister, Kaytee, into sharing her book for the human development class we are taking together. The two of us were able to outsmart the system by buying just one heavy hardback for a steep $90. It didn’t take much to convince her: I promised she could keep it in her dorm room and explained that we were helping our parents, who usually pay for our books.
I’ve come a long way from my freshman year, when I bought every text, lab book, and bit of recommended reading on my professors’ lists. Now I share, I borrow, and I do without. Some of my teachers encourage it. Last year, the prof in my PR class advised us to “browse the bookstore” and save ourselves some money.
It’s hard not to judge a book by its price tag, especially when it’s screaming big numbers at you. And to get to the textbooks at the Bookie, you have to walk by a rack offering bestsellers at 20 to 30 percent off.
Pullman has several bookstores to choose from, and you might assume the competition would benefit the students. But the Bookie, Crimson and Gray, and Bookie, Too! all set prices that differ by just a few dollars. Even so, my roommate, Kasi Snyder, an extreme bargain shopper, scoped out all three stores in Pullman, shopped some on Amazon.com, and checked out other on-line sites, before she even stepped near the checkout counter.
“The price of books is ridiculous, same as tuition,” Kasi says, noting that tuition at Washington State University has gone up 14 percent in the past two years. “I can’t go see movies, I can’t go out with my friends, and I have a hard enough time with food. It’s just more money that I don’t have.”
Most students are taking five three-credit classes each semester. If you figure books for each class cost an average of $100, that’s at least three months’ worth of groceries gone.
That might explain why, nearly three weeks into the semester, many of my friends still didn’t have all their books. Seth Lake, for example, says half his books weren’t available, despite his professors ordering them in the spring.
He’s still upset about a book he bought a few years ago. It was written by the professor teaching the course. Seth opened it to find an incomplete first edition—with missing pictures and partial text—which meant he wouldn’t be able to sell it back at half price at the end of the semester. But that wasn’t his worst problem. “My most expensive book was $120 for an on-line macroeconomics course that has little to do with my organizational communications major,” Seth says. His instructor required it, “. . . so that I could use, by my approximation, 20 pages total of case studies, worth only a few points each for my grade. I would have rather saved $120 and gotten half a grade lower in the class.”
I’m lucky. With my communications/PR major, my books are generally less expensive than those for the science and engineering students. I recently went snooping around the Bookie to find the highest prices. Calculus: Early Transcendentals for Math 273 listed at $155.90. A slim edition of Quantum Physics cost $110. And Art History for Fine Arts 201 cost $120. But those one-book classes are bargains compared to graduate courses like American Studies 502. Most of the books cost around $20, but when you added all eight together, the bill came to $175.
I’m not ready to give up hope and hand over all my cash yet. The high price of college texts has become a hot political issue. Seventeen states, including Washington, introduced bills this year to make textbooks more affordable. And on the national front, New York senator Charles Schumer is proposing legislation that would allow parents and students to deduct up to $1,000 for college textbooks. That would make my parents happy.
Washington’s bill was signed into law in March. It now requires boards of regents and trustees at the state’s universities to adopt rules related to cost savings on course materials. It also urges the assigning of the least expensive course materials, and means that students don’t have to buy books bundled with materials like CDs and workbooks that they may not need for their courses.
We’re not helpless here. I think there’s still more we can do. Until then, I guess it’s best to buy most of your books…unless you have a kid sister in your class.