College textbooks rise in price

At the beginning of every semester, students dread the thought of purchasing textbooks, and this year may have been one of the worst yet.

In the past four years, the cost of textbooks has increased at twice the rate of inflation, according to the Government Accountability Office. With a market estimated at $3.7 billion this year, the stark increase has not gone unnoticed by Congress, state governments, university officials, and students — all have joined in a movement to lower the cost of college textbooks.

In July, Congress passed the Higher Education Act, which, among its many changes, requires publishers to release more information about their prices as well as sell a textbook separately rather than “bundled,” or packaged with a CD or workbook. However, these changes will not go into effect until 2010.

Thirty-four states across the nation have also proposed textbook legislation. Yet, only five of them have passed the laws. Virginia passed its Textbook Fairness Act in 2005. Meanwhile in Maryland, the bills have died in committee for three consecutive years.

The lack of current legislation to deal with rising costs has affected students at universities across the nation.

The University of Arkansas predicted that its students would collectively spend more than $2.5 million in September alone on textbooks, according to The Washington Post.

At Carnegie Mellon, students are strapped as well.

Justin Mohney, a senior business administration major, estimated spending about $500 per semester on books. Jill Perkins, a junior professional writing major, estimated her semester costs at about $400.

Mohney noted that the financial blows extend to selling books back to bookstores and online.

Mohney said that campus bookstores only give students back a fraction of what they originally paid for the book.

“I just keep my books, it’s not worth the $5 or $7 I’d get back for them,” he said.

These student hardships are being recognized by professors and university administrators.

To help alleviate the high expense of college textbooks, the state university system of Ohio plans to offer incentives to professors who significantly reduce textbook costs for their students as part of its Textbook Affordability Symposium.

Similar initiatives can be seen at the University of Virginia. Michael Fowler, a physics professor, noted in The Washington Post that he uses an introductory book that costs $100 and covers three semesters of material.

He lessens this cost even further by assigning the same book as his predecessor so that students do not have to purchase a new one.

Perkins noted that Carnegie Mellon professors are concerned as well.

“When a professor knows we won’t be using the entire book, he makes an effort to copy the excerpt and present it to us in class so we don’t have to buy it,” Perkins said.

Hunt Library and the Engineering and Sciences Library offer textbook reserves, both in the library and online.

Textbooks in the library can be taken out for two hours at a time and used in the library; then can be taken out again after a half hour.

“The reserve is the most effective resource the library has [for student textbooks],” said Andrew Marshall, reserves assistant.

Marshall noted that many of the books are the personal copies of the professors.

“[The reserve] really is as effective as a professor wants it to be,” Marshall said. “Some really take advantage of it and others don’t.”

The e-reserves reflect a consequent rise in e-books.

Many publishers, such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill, have collaborated to make thousands of textbooks available in e-book format on web sites such as (

Until Congress, publishers, and universities across the nation pull together to sufficiently decrease cost and implement it into policy and legislation, students will have to take advantage of professors’ good graces and old-fashioned price searching.