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Textbook costs continue to climb

Like majority of students, Jonathan Sumner is feeling the rise of textbook costs drags him down. Photo by Ralph Hernandez | The Signal
Like majority of students, Jonathan Sumner is feeling the rise of textbook costs drags him down.  Photo by  Ralph Hernandez | The Signal
Like majority of students, Jonathan Sumner is feeling the rise of textbook costs drags him down.
Photo by Ralph Hernandez | The Signal

College textbook prices have been stacking up year after year, and it’s not because of inflation.

The cost jumped 1,041 percent from January 1977 to June 2015, while the nation’s prices inflated 308 percent, according NBC New’s analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In the article, Nicole Allen, spokeswoman for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, said textbook companies can raise prices since students have to buy the books.

The strain of paying for course materials is felt by most students, regardless of their course of study, since the average cost of textbooks is $1,225 for those attending a four-year in-state institution, according The College Board.

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Erica Mullgrae, Georgia State nutrition major, said she paid $500 this semester towards access cards for her four courses. But she also had to dish out money for her tuition and dorm payment.

“It stops me from doing other stuff. Like the groceries I need and just paying for transportation and my other bills,” she said.

She said she contacted the university about the programs they offer, such as the Perkins scholarship and the work study she qualified for, but they said they don’t have the money to help her.

“So it’s like every other thing that I try to access they are out of money. So it’s just like you are on your own to pay for these books,” she said.

Saving through faculty created texts

Risa Palm, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost at Georgia State, said teachers can help students avoid paying full price for textbooks by directing them to buy used books, rentals, earlier editions of the book or texts written by faculty members.

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“In some courses, faculty have written the texts and the department makes these materials available directly to students to avoid the costs of publisher profits,” she said.

Lynee Gaillet, a Georgia State English professor, worked with undergraduate and graduate students, while being the Director of the Lower Division Studies for English, to create the “First Year Guide to Writing.”

When making the book, she said the net price was $41.50 for two semesters, and the Georgia State bookstore raised the price to $60.50.

“We’ve been looking at how to have textbooks to do two things: one be more affordable and two to be more local,” she said. “We worked with Fountainhead Press to get a really good price [and] to negotiate down a price. And we use the same book for both semesters.”

Gaillet wanted to create a textbook with localized material that meets national writing program guidelines.

“So often you get a textbook that has nothing to do with your community,” she said. “I also wanted to make it affordable to students.”

She said all proceeds will go to “the further develop support for the teachers who teach those courses.”

Mullgrae said her professor also wrote her course’s textbook and only changed one page when updating it to the 2015 edition.

“I bought the old one, which was used, for like $50. So, I’m like with a page difference I will be ok,” she said. “She said, ‘It’s mandatory to have the book.’”

Buying the old book saved her $150, because she said the new one cost about $200.

College bookstores are managed by the University System institution’s Auxiliary Services or third party providers manage school bookstores, according to Sonja Roberts, spokeswoman for the University System of Georgia (USG).

“In the past few years, the greatest source of textbook cost reductions has been through bookstore textbook rental programs,” she said. “ALG is also helping bookstores to have software that allows them to offer a range of competitive purchasing choices to students through their websites.”

ALG projects students will save $9 million in academic year 2016 through OER and lower cost materials. The program also plans to expand to the top 100 undergraduate course next school year, Roberts saud.

“A major focus has been the top 50 undergraduate courses,” she said. “Targeting these courses through eCore and grant programs helps not only to create a collection of affordable options that can be adopted across the System, but also ensures that resources are going towards the courses that have the highest impact in terms of enrollment and in terms of textbook expenses as barriers to progression.”

The role of USG and faculty

Roberts said faculty members decide which books are selected for courses in college, along with the institution’s policies.

Palm said the only time faculty members don’t pick their course’s textbooks is when there are multiple sections of introductory courses.

“In this case, a faculty course coordinator works with faculty involved in teaching the course to select common textbooks and other course materials used in all of the sections,” she said.

However, the Board of Regents has a new program aimed at getting students and faculty use to use lower cost learning materials called Affordable Learning Georgia, which is a GALILEO initiative, Roberts said.

“GALILEO offers a wealth of resources for learning and research that are used in many courses at no cost to students,” she said. “Open Educational Resources (OER) are free learning resources developed by faculty for use in place of commercial textbooks.”

Susan Willey, a Georgia State professor at the College of Business, is replacing her BUSA 2106, Legal and Ethical Environment of Business $250 textbook with a free option through USG’s ALG grant to students, according to Roberts.

“These courses are projected by Dr. Willey to have more than 2,400 students enrolled in Academic Year 2016, resulting in a potential cost savings of more than $600,000,” Roberts said.

Timothy Renick, vice provost and vice president for Enrollment Management & Student Success at Georgia State, said the university and the USG has teamed up to foster faculty developed low or no cost electronic textbooks by giving funds to the cause.

“Such texts have been used in courses in psychology, biology and several other departments,” he said. “While such free texts are still relatively rare, we are working in collaboration with other universities to try to develop additional materials of this sort.”

He also said faculty can put required materials on reserve at the library.

“We are very concerned about the rising costs of textbooks and the impact of these costs on our students, and we are working to increase low-cost options for a greater number of courses,” he said.

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