Books: Colleges' Budget-Busters
Thomas Jefferson said that "books constitute capital."
Well, the thousands of students who will soon head off to college campuses across the country know all too well that it takes quite a bit of capital these days to buy textbooks.
A Government Accountability Office report found that in the past two decades, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation. In academic year 2003-04, students and their families spent more than $6 billion on new and used textbooks.
According to the GAO, the average estimated cost of books and supplies for a first-time, full-time student in 2003-04 was $898 at four-year public institutions. That was about 26 percent as much as the cost of tuition and fees.
At two-year public institutions, where low-income students are more likely to pursue a degree program and tuition and fees are lower, the average estimated cost of books and supplies per first-time, full-time student was $886, almost three-quarters the amount of tuition and fees, according to the GAO report.
It's not unusual for one textbook to cost more than $100. That, folks, is not chump change when you consider that so many students are already borrowing heavily to attend college.
The state Public Interest Research Groups criticized the rising cost of textbooks in a report called "Rip-Off 101: How the Publishing Industry's Practices Needlessly Drive Up Textbook Costs." The nonprofit advocacy groups found that, on average, the most widely purchased textbooks on college campuses have new editions published every three years. A new edition usually costs 45 percent more than a used copy of the previous edition.
The reports by the PIRGs and the GAO concluded that many factors affect textbook pricing, including the addition of "bundled" features such as CD-ROMs and workbooks shrink-wrapped together.
Publishers say the additional book features are what professors want.
Many state legislatures are considering legislation or have passed laws to help students combat the rising price of textbooks.
In Connecticut, for example, publishers are required to provide pricing information to faculty members before the professors put in an order. The idea is to make educators more aware of what the final cost will be to students.
Silly me; I would have thought faculty would pay close attention to what students have to pay for their books.