Last week, when University of Louisiana at Lafayette students saw the thousand-dollar price tag on the online version of the university’s Accounting 202 textbook, many thought it was a joke. They were appalled to find out it wasn’t.
UL priced the online textbook at this dangerously high number in an effort to force students into buying the $300 specialized hardcopy of the book from the campus bookstore. When the university saw more students were choosing the cheaper online book, they worked with the publisher to attach the thousand-dollar price tag. The university later changed the price back after backlash.
The most outrageous part of the incident is university administrators thinking students were choosing to take the cheaper route for fun. Three hundred dollars is a steep price point for a textbook and access code a student will only need for a semester, not to mention it was only one course. Most students will have 12 to 15 hours per semester, meaning they would also be responsible for buying textbooks and access codes for several other classes. Many universities in Louisiana operate the way UL does when it comes to students purchasing books and access codes. Universities, and even some professors, directly benefit from the purchase of textbooks in the campus bookstore.
Professor of economics and President Emeritus at Old Dominion University James V. Koch goes in depth on the subject in a New York Times article.
“Typically, the more students spend on textbooks, the more universities earn from their bookstore contracts,” said economics professor and President Emeritus of Old Dominion University James V. Koch. “Little wonder most universities don’t like on-line textbook suppliers or rental textbook systems... Textbook publishers love to “bundle” expensive textbook packages (book, workbook, CD, etc.) and with the help of professors, force students to purchase more than they would otherwise. If that doesn’t work, they’ll bring out a new edition and with the help of bookstores, render obsolete the old copies.”
There are even professors on college campuses who require their students to purchase a work the professor has authored or contributed to. The professors directly profit from this and students are left with no choice but to purchase the book.
Students often don’t have the option to resell the books after they’re done because the access code that accompanies the book is for one-time use. Buying the access code and a used book may prove more expensive than just buying a brand-new book.
The same goes for online rental options. The books may be cheaper on these websites, but the access code is often necessary to complete online assignments, quizzes and even tests. Few courses do not utilize online homework platforms.
The University is a wonderful college. However, it is not exempt from this unnecessarily expensive practice.
My textbooks for the semester cost nearly $600 for the seven courses I am enrolled in. Two of my classes don’t even require the purchase of textbook materials, but another two of my courses’ materials alone were $200 each, which is outrageous for two books I won’t even be able to resell.
When asking University students how much they spent on textbooks this semester, answers ranged from $200 to $500.
In addition to the regular fees we pay to the University for attendance, do these book fees not seem excessive?
Southeastern University in Hammond, Louisiana operates on a rental textbook system. Rather than forcing students into purchasing the textbooks they need for their courses, Southeastern allows students the option to rent their textbooks, which comes with the access code required for the course.
Southeastern’s website details the rental policy: “The current rental fee for a course which has a rental book is $50 regardless of the number of textbooks required for a course. Some courses do require the purchase of supplemental workbooks or manuals which are sold at the University Bookstore located in the Student Union.”
At Southeastern, the average student would pay roughly $200 to $300 for all their books each semester, regardless of the number of textbooks required for a course. They’re also paid for by the course, so if a textbook is less than the $50 rental fee, they have the option to just purchase the book.
This policy not only saves students hundreds of dollars, but leaves them the room to pay for other fees associated with their university experience.
Rather than focusing on how to profit from our purchase of books and access codes, the University should adopt a textbook rental system to help students shoulder rising costs.
Maya Stevenson is a 19-year-old English and economics sophomore from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.