Cash-strapped students may rent textbooks
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Thursday, July 22, 2010
7/22/10 at 3:46 AM
WASHINGTON — Oklahoma college students coping with the results of skyrocketing textbook prices could receive financial relief in time for the upcoming fall semester.
Officials on at least two state campuses announced programs to allow students to rent books instead of buying them.
Officials at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa and Langston University predicted students could save 50 percent or more on the costs of textbooks.
Those savings could add up to hundreds of dollars.
Earlier this month, provisions of a two-year-old federal law kicked in, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., explained to reporters Wednesday how the law can help students manage textbook costs.
Durbin was the original sponsor of the 2008 provisions that require publishers to provide information on prices to professors, cheaper formats and a history of revisions.
Textbooks and supplemental material now sold as a bundle, which Durbin said drove up costs, now must be priced and offered separately.
Colleges, where practical, also are to provide students with specific information about textbooks required for their courses.
That is designed to give students opportunities for comparative shopping before classes begin.
One of those alternatives could be the textbook rental programs at OSU-Tulsa and Langston.
Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and the OSU Center for Health Sciences, cited statistics that indicate his school's population includes a large number of adult students who are holding down jobs as well as attending classes.
Two big impediments for some students, Barnett said, remain cost and time.
"This helps us deal with the cost issue," he said.
Barnett said the program, which grew out of a pilot program by Follett Higher Education Group, comes at a time when the economic woes could be adding to students' financial issues.
"We are committed to providing students with affordable textbook choices without sacrificing quality," he said.
Chris Bradshaw, manager of the OSU-Tulsa Bookstore, said the program will begin July 25, adding about 30 percent of the store's titles will be available for rent for the fall semester.
"The savings for the students will be the best part of the new rental program," Bradshaw said.
"The availability of online rental will also make it that much more convenient."
Students who rent textbooks can treat them like they own them, he said, and that includes highlighting passages and adding their own notes.
"Normal wear and tear is expected," Bradshaw said.
Follett also is involved with the Rent-A-Text program at Langston.
"What we focus on is keeping costs low for our students," said Angela Watson, vice president for Fiscal and Administrative Affairs.
According to Houston Davis, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, another innovative approach popping up on state campuses involves a textbook bank that allows students to check out a book on an interim basis.
Durbin's provisions were described by Student PIRGs, the group that organized the briefing with the senator, as groundbreaking and the first major federal action on the issue of textbook prices.
"Today, the average college student spends between $800 and $1,200 on textbooks every year," Durbin said.
In 2003, he said, the costs of textbooks could amount to one-fourth the costs of tuition and fees, and the prices have gone up since then.
"The Higher Education Act Reauthorization finally gave students access to the information and options they need to make educated decisions about managing their finances in school," Durbin said.
D. Steven White, professor of marketing and international business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, also participated in the conference call and told reporters that some students could not afford to purchase textbooks.
That puts them at a disadvantage, White said.
He admitted professors have been guilty of not asking for textbook prices in the past and can be shocked when informed of their costs.
More affordable alternatives do exist, White said.
Durbin said he is hoping to get action, probably not until the next Congress, on a bill to encourage professors to put their own textbooks online for free.
Jim Myers (202) 484-1424