The College Board puts the annual cost of books and materials for the average college student at $1,168 per year; so that makes the price of textbooks for students earning a degree over four years at $4,672 total. Junior Romana Mrzljak has experienced spending money buying or renting a textbook that a professor assigns in the syllabus and ends up never using it.
“I had this one class and it was $100 just to rent a used book, it was the cheapest one I could find on Amazon, and three weeks into class [the professor] was like ‘yeah we’re never going use the book,’” Mrzljak said. “It’s super inconvenient; I’d rather them tell me beforehand whether or not I’ll need it.”
Webster offers to help offset students’ money with the Money for Textbooks program. To be eligible for the program, students must be enrolled online or at any of the St. Louis area campus locations and they must be expecting a financial aid award that exceeds their tuition and fees. Students who qualify may receive up to $600 per semester in advance of their financial aid award to purchase textbooks and supplies two weeks before classes start through Thursday of the first week of classes.
No cash refunds will be given for any textbooks or other merchandise purchased through the Money for Textbooks program, only a credit will be issued. Credits are sent to the Business Office to post on the student’s account.
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Ted Hoef said the program is beneficial to students who rely on financial aid to purchase their textbooks.
“For those students who are eligible for a refund after all of their financial aid posts to their account, they would normally have to wait 2-3 weeks after the start of the semester to have access to the funds to purchase their textbooks,” Hoef said. “This program provides a way for those students to purchase their textbooks at the start of the semester.”
Students can complete an online application for the Money for Textbooks program on Webster’s A-Z Directory through the bookstore page or student services under campus life page. Although the money is received from Financial Aid, the Student Affairs office handles the program. Senior Natalie Vega uses the Money for Textbooks program and does not think that many students know about it.
“I think it’s super helpful, that’s what Financial Aid is for,” Vega said.
There has been governmental changes with textbooks though. Since 2009 students and parents can qualify for a $2,500 textbook and course material tax credit by filling out IRS form 8863 and filing it with their taxes.
Webster partners with Follet for all St. Louis area campus locations and MBS Direct for all extended campus locations and online class textbooks. If a student at a St. Louis campus is eligible for the Money for Textbooks program, they may purchase books at the main campus’ bookstore, but students who are enrolled in online classes must purchase materials through MBS Direct.
NBC staff writer and editor Ben Popken wrote that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) data found textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from Jan 1977 to June 2015, that is a 1,041 percent increase.
Follet and MBS Direct get their books from large companies like Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, and Wiley publishers. The Disruptive Competition Project’s (DisCo) Jonathan Band wrote that those companies dominate the higher education market and are highly profitable; in 2012, McGraw-Hill’s profit margin was 25 percent; Wiley’s was 15 percent; and Pearson’s was 10 percent.
According to an article on textbooktown.com, publishing companies are able to market a textbook as a new edition without adding any content at all that is truly new; this can be done by adding a picture, rewording passages, transferring a picture to a different page or changing a subtitle headline. When a publisher Webster’s bookstore works with prints a new edition, and a professor assigns the older edition because it is basically the same thing, it can sometimes be difficult for the bookstore to get the older version and the publisher will send the new one anyway.
“Publishers reduce the availability of texts by coming out with new editions which often feature only slight changes, that way they can juice their profits,” said Assistant Professor of History, David Pennington. “This puts instructors and students in a bind.”
Government officials have noticed the problems with the current textbook industry; Democratic Senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, proposed an Affordable Textbook Act. This is a bill to expand the use of open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students. According to Congress.gov, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Oct 8, 2015. The committee will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate. However, govtrack.us gives zero percent chance of the bill being enacted.
The National Association of College Stores (NACS) suggests students should consider renting printed textbooks or e-books because they tend to be about one-third to half the price of buying a new text. Mrzljak tries to skip out on getting textbooks for classes as much as she can, but when she needs to have the book, she rents rather than buys.
“It’s a lot cheaper to rent from Amazon than the bookstore here,” Mrzljak said. “I think e-books could be cheaper, but I prefer to have a physical copy.”
Band’s article for DisCo states that the Internet is transforming the $14 billion U.S. textbook industry. It has created a demand for digital textbooks, which has reduced the revenue of the established publishers. Band gave an example that a publisher could sell a physical textbook for $75; but, could only charge $12.50 for an annual subscription fee for the e-book version of that textbook. Over six years the revenue stream would total $75, but in the first year the publisher’s would lose $62.50.
Robert Mitchell of Computerworld disagrees. He writes that students can sell printed textbooks back into the used market when they are done with them, further reducing their bottom-line costs. Mitchell writes that if e-books bring physical textbooks to an end, the current competitive system falls apart and college students will have a more difficult time finding discounts on new e-books. It would also be unlikely that they will be able to resell their “used” e-books, which will increase the net cost to purchase a textbook and defeat one of the main purposes of an e-book: saving money.