Bookends: Rising textbooks prices push students, professors to seek alternatives

On the third floor, the bookstore window says it all: “Knowledge is power; let us be your armory.” As true as this adage may be, we’ve all learned by now that knowledge comes at a hefty price. Here’s a fun fact: textbooks aren’t cheap. A single, mint-condition book for Chemistry 253, Biochemistry, ran upwards of $316 while a used copy at was $237. You could try to use an earlier edition, but it won’t include the recent, minimal changes and fancy new cover that are inherent to your class performance. Or, you could do what I do and order all of your books online. The very same edition Biochemistry book is nearly half the price on Amazon. However, there’s no guarantee when, or if, the book will arrive on time for your first major assignment, or ever. Of course, there is always the option of forgoing books altogether in favor of living dangerously as some are wont to do. I would highly discourage this course of action.

Of course, this isn’t an Allegheny bookstore problem, not in the least. This is a national problem, and if it’s bad now, it’s certainly not getting any better in terms of pricing. Let me lay out a few statistics. According to the Twenty Million Minds Foundation website, an organization whose mission is to make education more affordable, the average price per year that a college student spends on textbooks has made an disheartening leap from $900 to $1,300 in the span of three years. For all you all you calculus fanatics out there, what will be the average price in another three years? I don’t need to understand math to know it won’t be a pretty number. But what choice do we have? Textbook production is a lucrative business according to Twenty Million Minds, which states that five conglomerates control 80% of textbook production in the U.S.

It is unfortunate that our educations line the textbook industries’ wallets. Yet, what choice do we have but to pay the price? The textbook is a product, a commodity that we pay for and will continue paying for, regardless of the price. But how close are we to the threshold of absurdity? The economic downfalls are very real and are shaping the future as we speak. Twenty Million Minds concludes that 60 percent of students who fail to complete a post-secondary education list the cost of textbooks and fees beyond tuition as a factor leading to withdraw.

Looking around the world we live in makes me wonder: with all the technology we’ve grown accustomed to, why are students still required to invest in hardback books? Aside from being able to litter the page margins with pressing and personal insights on logarithms, there are no obvious advantages. For those, one has to read between the lines.

For starters, there is a sense of security in accuracy that comes with a textbook that is still difficult to guarantee in online sources. Online sources are still stigmatized, seemingly inferior to a thousand-page brick. No one has ever told me I can’t use an online book, yet, I still opt for the physical book. Judging by the lines in the bookstore at the beginning of each semester, it seems a great majority of the Allegheny community is wedded to a print mentality.

That said, as the Twenty Million Minds Foundation is working on a national level to make education affordable, there are those on campus who are indeed actively pushing onward for knowledge at a much more reasonable price. In the communication arts department, Professor Yochim made the decision to go without hard-backed books for her courses this semester in favor of electronic course packs to help cut the cost for her students.

“Electronic course packs offer diversity in terms of scholarly arguments about the course topics, but they offer a low-cost option for course readings,” said Yochim.

Yochim continued on to express her view on the shift from print to electronic text.

“As a society, we’re all really moving in the direction of electronic books and articles,” she said.

The bookstore and library also play their parts by offering more books for rent at a significantly cheaper price and offering a greater E-book collection, respectively.

While I’m displeased with the amount paid for this semester’s books, I’m pleased that we may be moving away from those glossy pages. It’s time to break this expensive habit.