Education by the book -- only if college students buy it

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- At St. Louis Community College, Ron Mozelewski has found many of his students less than businesslike when it comes to getting the textbook for his introductory economics class.

Now more than a week into a new semester, only about half of his students have the book he assigned. Some say they simply left it at home; others say they plan to buy it.

But Mozelewski says experience tells him that five to 10 students in this class of 25 or so will never get around to getting the book -- something he's seen for years.

That's not atypical to the National Association of College Stores, which estimates that about 20 percent of undergraduates nationwide aren't buying, renting or otherwise acquiring the books their professors expect them to have.

In surveys, only about 42 percent of students have told the association they think textbooks are needed.

Now, the group is running a test campaign on 18 campuses to drill the issue home to faculty members.

For students, cost may be the cause. The price has been rising rapidly as publishers have updated content, printed books on better paper, added color and graphics and, in some cases, packaged them with compact discs.

Gary Shapiro of Follett Corp., which runs 680 stores on 550 higher-ed campuses nationwide, puts the average price of a textbook today at $72.83. The text for Mozelewski's class -- less than an inch thick and with a paper cover -- fetches $83, too rich for student Joe Finazzo.

"If I don't have to buy the book, I'm not going to spend $80," said Finazzo, who makes book-buying a class-by-class decision, depending on the professor and subject. His no-no: going text-free in a math class.

Others explain away the problem as a result of the digital age, when college or university students learn not just from the printed word but from television and the Internet. Savvy professors supplement books with new media.

Other students split the cost and share the book. Washington University student Joya Deutsch says she paid $145 for a book on abnormal psychology this semester, only to return it for a full refund. Her plan: get through by borrowing a copy from a roommate who bought the book last year.

Some schools, including Southeast Missouri State University at Cape Girardeau, offer students the low-cost option of renting their textbooks. And at most colleges and universities, students can save money by buying used books and reselling their books to the campus bookstore when they're done.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: