The Price of Textbooks – Is it worth it?

As a new semester begins, students experience new schedules, new classes and new professors.

The start of a new semester also means it’s time for students’ next dreaded purchase: textbooks.

The business of textbooks is a very unpredictable one, with prices that range from less than $5 to over $300. Prices vary depending on department, class level and the availability of extra features (i.e. access codes).

Some courses require only one book, others more than a dozen. Unfortunately, the number of books does not always mean that the total will be higher, nor does a single book mean the bill will be cheaper.

But just how much are students actually paying for textbooks?

Junior Taylor Johnson said she spends around $300 – $400 per semester on books. Johnson, a Broadcasting Cinematic Arts major, said that individually, her books are never too costly, but her total bill always adds up. Even with the option to rent textbooks from the bookstore, it is still too expensive in Johnson’s opinion. In an effort to spend only what she needs to, she has found a way to keep her costs at a minimum.

“I always wait to buy my books until after the first week, so I know for sure if I’m really going to need them or even use them,” Johnson said. “If I can get away with not buying a book at all, I will – even if it makes it harder on me during the class.”

These days, the on-campus book store is not the only place to find textbooks. Websites like Amazon and Chegg often offer reduced prices on gently used books. While many students take advantage of these different sites, sophomore Shawna Bissonette orders her books exclusively though the Central Michigan University bookstore simply because they offer a benefit that other vendors don’t.

“I find it harder to spend money out of pocket for my books rather than charge them to my student account,” Bissonette said. “This optional payment allows students to charge their account and wait to pay for it the following month or until they receive their tuition refund.”

Graduate student Karly Sias said that while her overall bill isn’t as expensive as it was when she was an undergrad, she still finds that the individual books she needs for class are more expensive.

“Some professors don’t really get a choice in the books they use,” Sias said. “Those that do don’t really think about how much more graduate students pay in tuition on top of the books.”

Digital textbooks have offered a convenient alternative to waiting for books in the mail or picking them out at the bookstore, but have also presented a new set of obstacles for students.

The emergence of digital textbooks is a double-edged sword, as they are more convenient, but typically cost more overall. More departments are requiring students to do assignments online using systems like Pearson that require access codes. Because they offer a full version of a textbook plus access to specific programs, the starting cost is normally more than $100 dollars.

As prices for textbooks rise, students are finding ways to find them at a cheaper price or go without them completely. So what’s really worse, students increasing their college debt even further or not purchasing the necessary materials for class?

Either way, it’s obvious that something needs to change.