It’s that time of the quarter again. Dead Week. Finals. The time when your textbooks come in handy more than ever (because, let’s face it, many of us have chosen to “postpone” the hundreds of pages of joyous learning).
No one here doubts the worth of textbooks — they are an asset to professors and often (but not always) maximize our learning. My fellow Gauchos, perhaps the most frustrating feeling of the quarter faces us when the investment we made on a book in the beginning of the class is essentially devalued in front of our faces.
Wasn’t this required only days ago? Why, now that the quarter has ended, is the book you purchased for $80 now worth no more than $20? Or, even worse, the textbook is no longer being used for the next quarter and is therefore worth nothing. Pardon my naiveté, but how can an $80 book lose its entire value overnight? Is it that crucial to purchase the new textbook version for the “updated” index or table of contents and to enjoy the flashy new cover? Even if you believe those additions are worth the extra cost, I think I can safely say there is a consensus among college students that the textbook industry has been draining our wallets over the years by selling overpriced textbooks and then refusing to buy them back at a fair price.
A group of students from the Political Science Dept. decided to tackle the issue of overpriced textbook costs at UCSB and come up with some answers. After some research, we stumbled upon a CalPIRG survey which found that students nationwide spend an average of $900 per year on textbooks. This is almost the equivalent to 20 percent of tuition fees at an average public university and half of tuition fees at a community college. After running our own survey and calculating the 100 responses, we obtained similarly alarming statistics. Our results show that 44 percent of students spent between $600 and $900 a year on textbooks, while 13 percent actually did spend over $900 over the course of the year. The survey also indicated that about 42 percent had not bought the required textbook once or more per quarter because of the cost. There was one encouraging result however — that 80 percent of students had professors who sometimes or often put textbooks “on reserve” (only 3 percent did not know what “on reserve” meant).
“On reserve” means the professor provides the UCSB library front desk with the required book and allows it to be loaned out for two hours at a time (or overnight, if you check it out just before the reserve desk closes). Not surprisingly, there are students who would find this a hassle. However, putting books on reserve is a practical and crucial alternative for low-income students who have no other option. About 40 percent of our respondents said they were interested in utilizing the service, and 32 percent said they already use books on reserve.
Perhaps these statistics are not alarming for some of you. We are not suggesting that everyone should start sending hate mail to greedy publishing companies that charge the outrageous prices to begin with (although it would be nice if you did). Ultimately, we are hoping to inform students and professors of the seriousness of the situation and offer possible alternatives. The economic crisis and the fee hikes are no secret. Outrageous rent, increasing tuition, food and other basic needs have forced some students to make the ultimate sacrifice — textbooks and, thus, their education — in order to get by.
While many professors have indeed worked very hard to accommodate students and offer online copies or other alternatives, the financial stress on students seems to be lost on some professors who refuse to compromise with the very students they are charged with educating. We have therefore proposed an online pledge for professors to put at least one copy of the required textbooks on reserve, suggesting the ideal goal of one book per 50 students in large classes. Some professors have already signed and others have provided useful feedback. Opening the dialogue between students and professors is the first step in finding an agreeable solution for all parties (except the greedy publishers of course).
Another resource that will be available to UCSB students in the near future is something you probably haven’t heard of yet, but should keep in mind for next year! Sponsored by Student Initiated Recruitment and Retention Committee, the “Book Bank” will help alleviate the financial pressure on students. The Book Bank will be an alternative library for students to check out books they may require for their courses. SIRRC will provide donation boxes in residence halls and other locations such as the Annex building where the SIRRC office is located.
If you’re left feeling betrayed when you sell your pricey book back for chump change, consider donating to the Book Bank instead! Maybe you would feel better about getting that book off your hands if you knew that instead of going back into the for-profit system, it would go to a student in need. Not only would this make you feel good, but if the time comes when you need to check out a book from the Book Bank, it will be more likely to be there.
So think wisely, Gauchos, and remember that a united voice from the students is our best chance of success in dealing with overpriced textbooks!
Onofre Echeverria is a fourth-year political science major.