Already expensive textbook costs are rising
Brian Green – Contributor
Devin Hollister – Contributor
Benjamin Paquette – Contributor
Textbook prices are on the rise. Nationally, the average a full-time undergraduate student can expect to pay on textbooks is roughly $620 per semester.
The University is not immune to price increases; however, initiatives like bookstore rentals, textbook assistance programs, and library-assisted textbook rentals provide current and future students with cheaper alternatives.
“Access to textbooks is not only a matter of equity; it improves student success and retention,” explained Clara Ogbaa, director of the Hilton C. Buley Library since 2018. “Our research has revealed the high cost of textbooks and student dissatisfaction with the price of textbooks [at Southern].”
Buley Library staff conducted an internal survey from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, asking students ‘How much did you spend on textbooks this  fall semester.’
Results show students paying a median price of $319.32 for their textbooks, lower than the 2021 national average reported by the Education Data Initiative.
Still, 54 percent of undergraduate students are classified as coming from low-income households, making them eligible for Pell grants, according to the university’s 2021 census data.
“I think it’s ridiculous how expensive they are,” said media and screen studies major Christopher Rosales, a senior, who reported paying between $150-$200 per semester on textbooks. “[One semester] I had to buy a book for an Italian class that was $300. Even if that were for multiple semesters, that’s still way too overpriced.”
Larry Gal is the director of the bookstore in the Adanti Student Center. He admits textbook prices will continue to rise as projected, blaming publishers for the high prices. However, he said he is confident in the bookstore’s array of pricing and sale options.
“[The SCSU Bookstore] provides several affordable textbook options such as used books, rentals, and digital format books, which decrease costs from 30% to 50%,” said Gal.
Out of all the textbooks offered at the SCSU Bookstore, 85 percent have a rental option why 45 percent of books provide a digital option.
“I try to rent as often as I can,” said art education major Samantha Scott, a junior. “I’ll even go digital if it’s available since usually, it’s a much cheaper option.”
For some disciplines- Biology, Chemistry and Math- low cost textbook copies are set aside. Bookstore staff work with these professors so each student can access the books.
“Our goal is to help SCSU and its students address the rising costs of academic course materials and the impact that cost has on access, affordability, and convenience,” said Gal.
Affordability was a critical factor in professor Robert Smith, Jr.’s decision to write a Business Management textbook with his co-author, professor Kauther Badr.
“I don’t like textbooks to be expensive; I want students to have affordable access to materials. That’s why our book is going to be so reasonably priced,” said Smith.
Badr and Smith, Jr, will be donating any sales made at the university to the SCSU Foundation’s Food Insecurity Program.
“We decided to donate our royalties because we didn’t want there to be any misconception about the motivations behind us writing the book,” said Badr.
Some students may require additional assistance. This is where programs like the Textbook Assistance Program through the Dean of Student Affairs Office work to bridge this financial gap.
Jules Tetreault, the dean of Student Affairs, addressed how initiatives like the Book Assistance Program are helping those struggling to pay for textbooks.
“There is a great need for these programs, and we try to support what we can,” said Tetreault. “We offer book assistance programs that help students who may, financially, find
themselves in a difficult spot and may not be able to access their textbooks.”
The book assistance programs cover all or some of the cost of textbooks for students. One added benefit to the program is what happens to those books after the semester concludes.
“If you buy a book with the money you receive from the book assistance program, at the end of the semester, you are required to donate that book to the book loan program, which is how we keep restocking some of the more recent editions,” said Tetreault.
Once housed in the Multicultural Center, the book loan program now has a new home at Buley Library as part of an initiative to offer students a one-stop-shop for textbook needs.
Ogbaa explained that Buley has always had a reserve collection of textbooks from behind the checkout desk, but students were not allowed to rent or remove them from the library.
These textbooks are also in short supply, with Ogbaa describing how they are usually voluntarily donated by professors or students at a rate of one to two per semester.
In addition, financial and logistical barriers prevented the library from supplementing missing, or low-volume textbooks professors could not provide. Ogbaa attributes high textbook prices, along with a lack of funding as the reason an up-to-date collection cannot be achieved.
But Ogbaa knew something needed to change. Since the pandemic , she has seen increased accessibility for students who rely on community resources for their course texts.
“I have seen students who come to me and say; it’s about putting food on the table- paying my rent- or buying a textbook,” said Ogbaa. “We have students who have dropped out because they don’t have the money for their textbooks.”
Ogbaa received a $10,000 grant from the university provost, Robert Prezant, in November 2021. That money will help put the first of three approaches into place.
The goal is for students to have the option of taking out semester-long textbook loans from a closed reserve of books. In addition, while the university currently has a closed reserve, grant funding would buy what Ogbaa calls “current and recent editions of high cost or highly assigned” textbooks, expanding the reserve collection beyond its current capacity.
The library will also offer old reserves and donations from the Multicultural Center as free-to-access for students in the first-floor reference area.
Students could borrow these textbooks for up to one semester.
“The library will provide increased information and support for the adoption of Open Education Resources textbooks,” said Ogbaa, who emphasized her push to encourage all professors of all disciplines to consider using OER material.
“We will provide increased information on support [for OER] and apply the use of existing multi-user license eBooks,” Ogbaa said.
Ogbaa hopes to have her plan in action by the end of spring 2022.
When 51 percent of students are eligible for a Pell grant, the need for affordable educational resources, like textbooks, is not just the focus of student attention. Professors and school administrators are now taking notice.
“We want to give people the opportunity to acknowledge that our students do have external financial concerns and that there are other options to consider,” said Tetreault. “Putting
it on someone’s radar puts it in front of them and brings awareness.”