Sunday, July 01, 2012

the college textbook racket.

Boy, what a racket college textbook sales are. I would be interested to see if anyone has done a study on this—it’s amazing how most students have no choice but to participate in the scam. And the scam is this: college textbooks are incredibly expensive, in some cases ridiculously expensive. Even the used ones are over-the-top expensive. Students have the opportunity to “sell” their textbooks back to the school, but this often has a disproportionate return. Like pennies on the dollar return. For example, if you bought a textbook for about $150, if it is in perfect condition with everything intact you will receive about $8 to $15. And that’s if they are going to use that book the following semester! It’s not uncommon for a school to decide to change books every other term or year. In some cases when I took more mainstream and general requirement classes, I had luck finding very cheap books at Powell’s or on, but as I got further along on this crazy college trip, some of the books have been a little more specific and nuanced.

Take for example my Business Finance Book:

About as dry as a mouthful of crackers. And "Fundamentals" is an overstatement. 

definitely used. 
This book is paperback and smaller than most textbooks I’ve used for school. I think it’s really abusive to charge $72.50 for the book when I’m already paying about $800 for the class. To add insult to injury, this book is a school specific edition so I can’t just Google the title and get something close that will work for class.
What a rip off!
I’m not the first one to write about this and of course there’s a good chance that you, the reader, are very familiar with the situation. Just performing a google search of “college textbook racket” yielded pages of results, including articles, sites offering low-cost solutions like renting or selling to each other, and discussion forums. I guess it's safe to say there's no shortage of resources if I'm looking to vent and save money. 

To most teachers’ credit, they make recommendations on how to save money or provide a way to access the book for free. Quite a few of my classes provided a URL where you could access the textbook online. In another class, our teacher told us to photocopy chapters 2 and 7 then return the book because that was all we needed for the term. I had a computer class where on the first day of class, the teacher lugged in a big suitcase full of books, and signed one out to each of us to use for the term (for free!). So as you can see, there is a recognition across the spectrum that textbook sales are a major financial issue for most people.

Like most people, I find that I constantly fight against this divide of being able to pay for college and trying to obtain a degree to advance professionally, earn more money and improve my quality of life. It’s nice (ha ha) that nowadays when you apply for a student loan, they give you a repayment schedule so you have an idea that borrowing 40 grand will give you $900 a month payments after you graduate or stop going—regardless of if the degree was earned. That’s a scary thought! And also motivation to not depend on student loans, which presents the challenge of self-financing or being awarded scholarships. It’s times like these I wish I could hop in the time machine and talk to younger me about how this stuff works.

Other than my complaints about the cost of textbooks and classes, I feel that I have experienced a high quality of instructor/instruction. Actually my BA 302 teacher kind of sucked and gave me a B, but other than that I’ve met some really smart professors who are passionate about what they are teaching and also have full-time real jobs—owning their own successful businesses, marketing, engineering, publishing, some very interesting people who share great real world experiences. Like my last teacher, who taught BA 311. It’s at those moments I momentarily forget the rage I feel at the beginning of each term when shopping for textbooks.

Something I’ve recently questioned is why I save my textbooks. I have a few stacks of books around the house that I don’t think I’ll ever look in again. Am I subconsciously trying to justify the amount of money spent by having the books around as tangible, material reminders of the (losing) investment?


What a losing proposition. Well, I might look at the geology and meteorology books again. But probably not the rest (if I can help it).

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