College Students Struggle Paying For Tuition And Textbooks

Mar 17, 2014

Paying for college is a struggle for many.

A new study shows the high cost of textbooks has some students making tough decisions. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports.

It’s mid-afternoon on a cold day at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware.  Students can be seen walking throughout campus with their bookbags full of books.  But for many students, getting those books isn’t so easy.  Senior Vince Donofrio says it’s always tough to come up with the books required for classes in his major. 

Donofrio: “Econ books tend to be very, very expensive.” 
Ingles: “How expensive?” 
Donofrio: “Between $200 and $300.” 
Ingles: “Apiece?” 
Donofrio: “Yeah, which is insane.  And the worst part is that we don’t even use them much of the time.”

Junior Blake Adkins says getting books for his classes have required him to become a savvy shopper. 
Adkins: “I usually try to buy online at Amazon or somewhere like eBay isn’t bad.” 
Ingles: “Is it cheaper to buy them online?” 
Adkins: “Yeah, like, I’ve seen books for probably a couple of hundred bucks through the bookstore but on Amazon it will be $80 to $100 max.”

Some students, such as senior Jason Lonnemann, cut the cost of books this way. 
“I try to buy them with someone else if I’m in a class with someone to split the price.  And then at the end of the semester, we usually sell them back and split the revenues from that.”

Senior Alyssa DeRobertis is student teaching this semester so she didn’t need books.  But last semester, she came up with a way to get around buying them. 
“Last semester, when I was required to buy books, I got all of them from the library instead.  I haven’t bought books for a year.” 

But Bryan Stewart with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund says many students are not lucky enough to find ways to borrow or share books.  And he says a new survey by his group shows students who need books they can’t afford are trying to decide which grades they are willing to sacrifice for not having the required reading available. 
“You have three or four books assigned for a class.  And you look and say ‘Well, I’ve only got about 50 pages of that book assigned for a class and it’s $40 so maybe I’ll be able to borrow it, maybe I won’t.  I’ll take that hit.’”

Stewart says students often decide which classes to take based on the cost of books.  And that can cause problems in the long run if the student doesn’t have the required courses under their belts as they near graduation time.  Stewart says sometimes students can sell their books back for other students to use but often times, they only get pennies on the dollar when they do that. 
“You could always sell your book back if they didn’t put out a new edition every year, basically making your version, version 7 with version 8 out, about one fifth the retail value.  And it’s systematically done that way and it really hurts the student because they don’t really get much for their book when they try to sell it back.”

Stewart says there’s a new option coming on the scene now – it’s called “open textbooks”. 
“It’s actually a pretty new concept.  It’s a faculty written, peer reviewed book.  It’s similar to any traditional textbook you’ve seen.  It’s published in a way that anybody can download them off the internet and they don’t have some sort of expiration date when you can download them or only print a certain amount.”

Stewart says the fact is there simply are not enough of these open textbooks right now so students are often left to scramble for money to pay for their books.  The College Board estimates students are spending an average of $1,200 on books and supplies this year – about 14% of the amount of their tuition at a four year public college and 39% of their tuition at a two year community college. And to make matters worse, grant money is often doled out in a way that it applies only to tuition but leaves nothing to pay for living or book expenses.  The Ohio PIRG report says the best way to lower the cost of textbooks is to take the control away from big publishing companies.  So this report calls on lawmakers and faculty at college campuses to adopt their own open textbook initiatives.