The death of textbooks

Photo by Kelli O'Toole/TheNews

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Staff writer

According to the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, college textbook prices are 812 percent higher than they were three decades ago. Prices have risen faster than tuition, health care costs and housing prices.

Students enrolled in a public four-year university spend an average of $1,250 a year on textbooks alone, according to a study by the College Board, a non-profit organization that connects students to college success.

“The prices have become increasingly expensive due to price increases from the publishers’ frequent changes in editions and the requirement of online learning programs,” said Andrew Dowdy, assistant director of textbooks at the University Store.

Dowdy said the requirement of online programs – also known access codes – has made it impossible to offer students used textbook options for many courses.

Dowdy also said because of the rising costs, the university has been exploring options to make course materials more affordable – like increasing the selection of lower cost e-book options, stocking lower cost used books for as many courses as possible, a more affordable rental program and allowing students to charge books to their student account.

TO RENT OR TO BUY

Although the University Store is the main place on campus to buy textbooks, many students don’t purchase course materials there.

During this spring semester, approximately 5,470 students purchased textbooks from the University Store.

According to a Twitter poll by The Murray State News, most Murray State students purchase their textbooks online.

Some popular websites students use to purchase or rent textbooks are Amazon, Chegg, Better World Books and Half.com.

The poll showed approximately 13 percent of students decide not to purchase any textbooks.

There is also a 6 percent return rate of textbooks at the University Store, including students who dropped or changed classes.

THE MAJOR INFLUENCE

Ace Ebling, senior from Bowling Green, Kentucky, said the amount of required reading he is assigned – as a history major – makes textbooks essential for some classes, but there other classes where he found himself returning books because they were not necessary.

Ebling said he has bought textbooks online as well as the University Store and has even used alternative ways to find the information needed – like the university library databases.

The majors that most often require expensive textbooks include nursing, chemistry, engineering, business and physics among others.

Accounting is also one of the most expensive majors for textbooks because frequent edition changes and the requirement of access codes, which make it impossible to sell books back once they’ve been used.

An assistant professor of accounting, Denise O’Shaugnessy, said textbooks are essential for her classes and students could not pass without them.

“How I look at it is if you are building blocks of knowledge, your textbooks are your foundation,” O’Shaughnessy said.

She said she tries to consider prices when she chooses textbooks for her students and gives them the choice of buying a hard copy of the textbook or paying for online access – whichever is more accessible to the student.    

“Even though the university does not have full control of pricing, we realize the financial strain that textbooks can place on our students,” Dowdy said.