Overpriced textbooks: The challenges and The options

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A problem that is affecting many students at MCTC is overpriced textbooks.

It is not uncommon, to purchase at least one brand new textbook ranging from $125 to over $300. MCTC textbook webpage states an estimated cost of books and supplies per student can cost on average $1,200.

The student Senate hosted a textbook presentation meeting with McGraw-Hill Education representatives, and Vice President of Finance Chris Rau, on Oct. 28. Andrew Darsow, one of McGraw-Hill learning technology representatives, talked about textbook affordability and was able to answer a few questions about MCTC’s potential Digital Partnership Plan. He said the Digital Partnership Plan is a digital platform integration using Connect and D2L offering students an option to buy McGraw-Hill interactive e-books for selected classes once the plan is approved to pilot at MCTC and North Hennepin Community College (NHCC).

“The model that we talked with MCTC is Connect is built into D2L, say if you picture a business course. How this would work, is a student will log into D2L on the first day of the semester, then click on the link for Connect and it will take them to the business course to select the e-book and activities the student will need for the course. It would eliminate the access code completely and it would actually reduce the price for the student,” Darsow said.

“What this model does, when it comes to the bookstore, is it eliminates the bookstore from having to order textbooks, pay for shipping and all the labor intensive things that has to deal with the bookstore and them stocking bookshelves. It is safe to say, typically going from print text to e-book only, should save 30 percent to 40 percent on average on cost,” Darsow explained.

As of 2015, five major publishers control 85 percent of the textbook market. These five major publishers do compete against each other, therefore they can create new editions for textbooks resulting in higher textbook prices each year.

“It’s a complete rip-off,” biology student and library staff Q. Johnson said. She has had to use leftover financial aid to purchase textbooks or sometimes pay out-of-pocket. “The textbooks market is broken and students are paying the price,” Ethan Senack, a higher-education associate at US PIRG, told the US News & World Report in 2014.

Tim St. Claire, the vice president of the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA), stated the MSCSA is dedicated to trying to get the cost of textbooks down as much as they can. An alternative option discussed at the Senate presentation to help students with affordability is the open textbook library. Open textbooks are faculty-written, peer-reviewed textbooks that are published under an open license meaning that they are available free online and are free to download.

The latest news from the MCTC bookstore is that they are striving to improve and assist students with a cheaper e-book option for textbooks. Dawn Master, MCTC Bookstore manager stated in an email, “We are slowly moving in that direction. We have access cards at this time for students to purchase. Cheaper than a textbook but students are not demanding them.

“We probably only sell about 10 percent compared to individual textbooks when students are given a choice. Example: We may only sell 4 or 5 access cards/e-books for a class of 40 when students are given the option of purchasing the physical textbook versus an access card/e-book.”

A PIRG report, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” states that according to a recent survey, “65 percent of college students skipped on buying a textbook because it was too expensive.” Most students in this case will opt to use the MCTC library as a resource to obtain a copy of the book to loan and use in the library.

“Yes, the MCTC Library has been impacted by the overpriced textbook issue,” Library Coordinator William Vann said. According to Vann, most instructors donate per semester one or two copies of their textbooks to the library’s reserve collection. Students can check-out the textbook for two hours to read in the library only.

Talking with liberal arts student Timothy Ayigah, he discussed a method that’s working for him to get around overpriced textbooks. Ayigah is a second year student and is paying out-of-pocket for his books. He learned very quickly in his first semester that MCTC textbooks are overpriced.

For Ayigah renting textbooks is a no brainer, they are cheaper and at the end of the semester, he mails the textbook back to the company. If you’re a student that uses financial aid here are some online sites to rent textbooks: Chegg.com, Textbookrental.com and Bookrenter.com

On Oct. 7, U.S. Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Angus King (I-ME) introduced legislation a bill know as the Affordable College Textbook Act. The bill would allow government grants available for professors to create open textbooks, resulting in digital textbooks online for students free of charge.

“When it comes to paying for college, one thing that’s often overlooked is the rising cost of textbooks and supplies. By expanding access to free online textbooks, our bill would help address this problem and allow students and families to keep more of their hard-earned money,” said U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN).