By Chris Manns
The sticker shock that comes when college students take a look at the latest textbook prices is leading to some creative and unusual remedies.
In California, a partnership between West Valley College and Second Harvest Food Bank lets students borrow textbooks in exchange for canned-food donations.
At Bluefield College in Virginia, students can pay one flat, discounted fee that allows them to receive all their required textbooks before classes start.
“It’s no wonder that colleges and students need to think outside the box when it comes to textbooks; they represent a staggering cost that just seems to get worse,” says Chris Manns of the price comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. Both free services help students locate the cheapest prices for millions of books.
One study by the Student Public Interest Research Groups showed that the cost for college textbooks has risen 73 percent over the last decade – more than four times the inflation rate.
“Sometimes the expenses aren’t even necessary,” Manns says. “For example, students might be required to buy a ‘book bundle’ with extra class materials that add to the cost. Often professors don’t even use some items in those bundles.”
Outside of a few innovative programs, such as that textbook-in-exchange-for-food-donation arrangement, the options for most students boil down to buying or renting.
“Renting might seem the obvious choice because of the price,” Manns says. “But that’s not always the case. When you look a little deeper, you could find you’d be better off buying the book and selling it later.”
He says a few factors to consider when weighing rent vs. buy include:
• How soon do you want the book? Do you prefer getting your textbooks well before class starts? Then buying might be the way to go. When you rent textbooks, you need to return the book before the due date. If you rent too soon the due date will arrive before the semester ends. Hang onto the book and you’ll be charged a late fee. Most of the time, this added cost isn’t much, but it can add up if you’re really late getting the textbook back to the merchant, Manns says.
• Do you like convenience? If so, then renting is probably the best option. You don’t have to worry about reselling the textbook after the class ends. Simply print a shipping label and send it back to the merchant.
• Is the book all you need? Sometimes students need to have supplemental software that comes with the textbook. But most textbook-rental merchants don’t offer the supplemental software when you rent a textbook, Manns says.
Right now, most students are between the typical book-buying times. Their fall classes are already underway and they likely won’t be buying textbooks for the spring semester until early January. But Manns says it could be financially prudent to start planning now for how to get the best bargains.
“Many college students are already strapped for cash, counting out coins to pay for a meal or worrying about whether they’ll have enough gas money to get home for a holiday,” Manns says. “They need to look for ways to save everywhere, and if they can get by without a textbook or at least with a cheaper version, then so much the better.”
About Chris Manns
Chris Manns is the managing director of the price-comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. He’s been in the business of helping students find the cheapest prices for their textbooks since 2001.