Tyler Middlestadt

Last Wednesday the New York Times published a story entitled, “Getting Textbooks Cheaper from India,” focusing on the efforts of students who purchase textbooks from overseas in order to save money. The attempts to avoid the retail cost of textbooks in the U.S. should not come as a surprise, especially for students.

One example given was an electrical engineering textbook that sold for $140 on Amazon.com, yet the “special Indian edition” was available for $8 online from a store based in India. So why are textbooks so expensive in the U.S. and what can be done about it?

According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the practice of “bundling” CD-ROMS, workbooks and solution guides to textbooks is a significant factor along with the frequent release of new editions. The GAO report also stated that on average, the cost of textbooks and supplies averaged 25 percent of the cost of tuition.

In response to the GAO report, a spokesperson from the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) stated that the report “-confirms what we have said for two years. First, textbooks are a significant college cost; second, textbook prices are skyrocketing; third, publisher’s practices contribute to the high cost of textbooks.” Student PIRGs nationwide have organized the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign for two-years, drawing attention to the issue and advocating for textbooks to be “reasonably priced.” Visit www.maketextbooksaffordable.com to get more info and to join the fight for affordable textbooks.

As a student, it’s easy to overlook the longer trends that affect us over time. It is obvious that life is more expensive now than it was during our parents’ time, when tuition was nearly free in California and gas was under a dollar per gallon. Since 1986, average tuition and fees have increased by 240 percent (76 percent in the past four years) while the cost of textbooks has tripled. Today the cost of textbooks increases by an average of 6 percent each year, twice the rate of inflation. Clearly something needs to be done to address the increasing cost of buying books.

Fortunately, student leaders across the country have already begun advocating for textbook affordability to university officials, faculty, publishers and lawmakers. Last year, ASI passed a resolution calling for increased campus leadership in reducing textbooks prices.

The local resolution called on faculty and departments to complete their book orders on time so that used editions are more likely to be available, to consider the cost and availability of used books and to avoid bundled packages when deciding on the required text for their classes. The resolution also requested that El Corral Bookstore use all means possible to ensure that students receive the fairest prices on textbooks and that efforts be made to publicize available discounts and savings available on book purchases.

The Make Textbooks Affordable campaign targets publishers more directly in their efforts, demanding that they reduce the rate that new editions are released, allow books to be purchased separate from the “bundled” items and that publishers focus on producing low cost alternatives like e-books. The California State Student Association is a coalition partner in the campaign.

If the efforts to control textbook prices succeed, it will be because students put persistent pressure on universities, publishers and lawmakers to address the issue and make textbooks affordable.

Tylor Middlestadt is the ASI president and Mustang Daily columnist who supports the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign. He can be reached at 756-5828; AIM: CPASIPresident; e-mail: tmiddles@calpoly.edu.

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