Stiff cost of textbooks riles students, lobbyists

Amber North

Zumdahl Chemistry, sixth edition — $147.15. Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight — $140. Vector Mechanics for Engineers: Statistics and Dynamics — $157. These were just some of the textbook price tags that left Northwestern students in shock as the new quarter began.

“For organic chemistry alone, I had to spend over $300 in textbooks,” Weinberg freshman Justin Lieber said.

Weinberg junior Byron Tsang said he spent more than $800 for books in one quarter.

The national average for college textbook costs is $800 per year, according to the College Board. According to a CBS News investigation, students will spend a total of $8.8 billion on college textbooks this year.

The high cost of textbooks is receiving national attention. A recent report filed by the California Public Interest Research Group stated that textbook prices have reached a record high and publishers tend to switch editions before students can find them used. The report led to hearings in July before a subcommittee in the U.S. House Education Committee.

Bills have been proposed to discuss the possibility of student loans or tax credits just to cover textbook costs, according to an Aug. 23 article in The Boston Globe.

“Norris Bookstore has exorbitant prices because they have the monopoly … But really it’s a national problem,” Tsang said. “The whole U.S. industry’s book prices are so inflated, Norris gets an inflated wholesale price. College textbooks are half the price in the U.K.”

Many students eventually try to find all their books used or online, instead of paying the marked up university price.

Norris Center Bookstore, along with several others across the nation, has a system to sell back books. But publishers continue to switch editions so often that students find their books “out of date” before they get the chance to sell them back.

“My freshman year I spent $150 on a textbook,” said Ben Mangrich, a McCormick junior. “They’d switched editions the year before me so I couldn’t buy it used. They switched editions the year after I took the class so I couldn’t sell it back.”

Sociology Prof. Gueorgui Derluguian said he is aware of the problem and tries to be sympathetic about book costs.

“I never assign any texts over $30 and I always put all reading on reserve at the library where students can read for free and in excellent conditions,” Derluguian said.

Chemistry Prof. George Schatz teaches an accelerated chemistry course for freshman and a junior-level physical chemistry course.

“We try to enhance the lifetime of texts as much as possible,” Schatz said. “But quality is what I think about when I think of texts. There is not much variation in price from text to text.”

Many students will keep their books for future reference, Schatz said.

“Essentially students are establishing a library. I still have many of my college textbooks,” said Schatz as he pulled out his freshman year chemistry book. “I get to see just how much the material has changed.”

Weinberg freshman Sarah Whitney said high textbook prices are inevitable.

“There are two certainties in life: death and the high cost of college textbooks,” Whitney said.

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