Some students opt out of buying textbooks because of rising prices

By Stephen Case – [email protected] – Staff Writer

Brian Hart and Erin Perko both work at the bookstore. Photo by Stephen Case - Staff Writer
Brian Hart and Erin Perko both work at the bookstore.
Photo by Stephen Case – Staff Writer

As the growing prices of textbooks present a problem for students at universities across the nation, UNC Asheville maintains its goal to make prices as affordable as possible, according to school officials.
“We try to find cheaper options for course materials,” said Amy Ridenour, UNCA bookstore manager. “The university has a textbook committee that meets four times a year and is comprised of bookstore managers, faculty, students and the financial administration. It is important for faculty, staff and students to work together to keep costs down.”
According to a recent survey conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Group, 65 percent of students admitted to not buying a textbook because of the cost. Of those students, 94 percent worried this could negatively affect their grade. The survey included UNC-system universities, along with more than 150 campuses across the country and 2,000 students.
The report also indicated students opt out of classes because of the costs associated with textbooks.
Students at UNCA spent on average $783.47 for new textbooks last year, down 5 percent from the year before. Used textbooks averaged $526.17, down 15 percent from the previous year, Ridenour said.
“I think it’s a marketing issue,” said Alex Huang, professor of atmospheric sciences at UNCA. “They want students to purchase the newer books rather than the old books, so they want to keep pushing the newer editions. The newer books have more multimedia online interactive learning tools available, and those things have to be updated more often than the print.”
Huang said he prefers not to use a textbook for most of his classes, because sometimes it’s hard to follow the logic of a textbook. The book may not work with his own schedule or purpose of the class.
UNC-system universities like Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University employ a flat fee for renting textbooks included in the cost of tuition, according to university officials.
“Follett has a program called INCLUDED, where textbook cost is included with tuition,” Ridenour said. “This was discussed with the textbook committee last year. It would be the university’s decision to implement such a model.”
Alvis Dunn, a visiting assistant professor of history at UNCA, said he only uses a textbook for maybe 50 percent of his classes.
“I try really hard to use public domain sources,” Dunn said. “I have in the past put a copy of the textbook on reserve in the library and will always do that.”
Dunn said he can’t speak for others, but in his department, each individual teacher assigns the textbook at their own discretion.
“I can’t influence those other people, I can only do my thing,” said Dunn regarding teachers assigning textbooks. “I will always do everything I can to keep the prices of a class down. I’ve always done that. I’ve taught at a number of other schools. I’m usually given my own way of doing things and this department certainly allows for that.”
Courtney Clemmer, 19, a sophomore mathematics student at UNCA, said she doesn’t agree with how high the prices for textbooks run, especially since she only uses the book for one semester.
“I don’t mind spending the extra money if it’s for one of the textbooks I can keep and use for future reference for my classes later,” Clemmer said. “When I’m spending $200 on a textbook that I will reference twice in a semester and then never look at again, it’s too much money for me.”
Ridenour said UNCA’s rental service offers great savings to students. At 50 percent off the new retail price, students can get the books they need for their courses, write and highlight in them, then return them without facing shipment charges or any return hassles.
“Over the last few years our digital options have grown a lot,” Ridenour said. “This spring, we offered 198 digital options, most of these at a great cost savings to students. We have multiple platforms for digital books including Cafescribe, Inkling and COPIA. Right now one of the hurdles with digital books is delivery – Kindle does not offer pagination, so it makes textbooks difficult to read, and the Kindle Fire only offers specific apps. All of our platforms are compatible with PC’s and Macs, including iPad and iPhone. The difficulty with moving to all digital, which would be a decision the school would make, not the bookstore, is the variety of devices students have, or don’t have.”