Students Getting Sticker Shock from Textbook Prices

Students entering college in 2006 can expect to pay more than $500 for textbooks for their first semester courses, a huge outlay of cash for many who have already taken out student loans to pay for tuition and fees. University of Connecticut freshman Ben March returned to UConn’s Co-op bookstore for an accounting textbook last February, after having already spent $400 on other textbooks. The book cost $101. “I was trying not to buy it, but I ended up needing it," March said, according to boston.com. “The prices are depressing, but you really don’t have a choice.”

Full-time students in a four-year public college paid $898 for books in 2003-2004, equal to 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued in 2005. Congress is looking at the problem, and Virginia and California have passed legislation, but these measures have had little impact on student costs so far.

Faculty members are now being asked by state legislatures to consider pricing in their selection of textbooks and study materials. Is it necessary, for example, for an introductory accounting course to use the latest edition of a text that comes from the publisher bundled with a CD-ROM and study aids, which jack up the price?

New editions, which now come out every three or four years, cost students up to 45 percent more, the Washington Post says. The most popular accounting textbooks have been through many editions, and changes from the previous editions may be limited to the use of color and graphics. Accounting, by Warren, Reeves and Fess, published by South-Western Press, is now in its 22nd edition.

Publishing companies market their wares directly to professors at regional and national meetings of groups like the American Accounting Association, where professors sign up to receive complimentary copies of new textbooks. Large sales teams from companies like McGraw-Hill, publisher of Principles of Financial Accounting, 18th edition, and Prentice-Hall, publisher of Introduction to Financial Accounting, 9th edition, attend the national meetings.

A survey conducted by the California Student Public Interest Research Group reported that faculty members in all disciplines at Stanford University said that the replacement of old editions by new ones was “rarely” or “never” justified. But many continued to order them for their classes anyway, according to the American Intelligence Wire. Eighty-seven percent of faculty surveyed in the entire California system favored publishing new information in the form of paperbound supplements.

A Textbook Task Force at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), recommended not buying new editions or bundled products, but faculty peers did not endorse these proposals. The faculty senate, while acknowledging that textbook pricing was a persistent problem, did not agree with the Task Force’s opposition to bundling or to new editions, saying that educators in the professions use evidence-based materials and needed to consider the requirements of professional licensing.

The senate found that providing “faculty and students with more comprehensive, current pricing information in a timely, easily-accessible fashion is not only critical, but the most practical first step to take.” The WCSU task force recommendations and responses are published on the university’s Web site.

In fields like accounting, where older editions might work in introductory courses, professors have individual goals for more advanced courses, and texts should include current law, research or cases, instructors say. The text should be considered an investment, a reference that the student will want to keep. Additional resources may also prove a good investment for many students.

Publishers determine wholesale prices for textbooks, and college bookstores determine the final price for the book. The average mark-up college bookstores add to new books is 33 percent, and the mark-up for used books is 50 percent, Bruce Hildebrand, executive director at the Association for American Publisher says, according to MSNBC.

Peg Godwin, manager of the University of Idaho’s Bookstore, told the university newspaper, the Argonaut, that it is hard to break even. “If we buy 100 books, we have to sell 80 books just to pay for those books and then we have to sell another four or five books to pay for the freight on them. And then we have to pay all our salaries, and salaries run around 12 to 13 percent, so we have to sell those last three books.”

Most college bookstores have textbook buyback programs, but with new editions coming out so frequently, there are not many books stores can accept for resale. University of Texas Co-op President, George H. Mitchell, says that UT students buy an average of 40 percent used books, much higher that the national average of 25 percent, the Financial Times reports. The process is successful in Texas, says Jennifer Libertowsky, spokeswoman with the National Association of College Stores, because instructors provide lists of books that will be used in classes well in advance of the buying period.

Students are finding that purchasing online provides substantial savings on both new and used books, the Washington Post says. Popular sites, in addition to Amazon.com, include www.campusbookswap.com, which allows students to buy and sell used books directly, and www.textbookx.com.

And like other products, some textbooks are cheaper in Canada. In some cases savings can equal 90 percent of the U.S. retail price, the Post says, although AccountingWeb found prices for accounting textbooks were only slightly lower than U.S. prices. Shipping time is estimated to be three to six weeks. Buyers can go to www.amazon.ca.

But shop early or pay full price. As of August 1st, Amazon had only one new copy of Principles of Financial Accounting by Wild, Larson and Chiapetta, (Chapters 1-17) now in its 18th edition and selling for $113. McGraw-Hill does not list their price for the book. There were only four new copies of Introduction to Financial Accounting by Horngren, Sundem, Elliott and Philbrick available on Amazon for $106.70. The book lists on the Prentice-Hall Web site at $149.50 and costs $165 with Peachtree software.

And the most successful textbook in history, according to Amazon, Warren, Reeves and Fess’s Accounting, published by South-Western Publishing in a number of different formats, is also nearly sold out. Amazon says they have more copies of all of these books on order.

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