Books of burden: costs for texts absurd

Steps must be taken to help students afford textbooks.

For many students, the cost of textbooks is beyond belief. Even wily University veterans experience cases of textbook sticker shock. When tuition is increasing precipitously, the costs of textbooks are yet another burden on students. The University and the Minnesota Student Association should take steps to soften the blow of textbook costs for students.

Textbooks are expensive. According to the College Board, on average, students spent $727 to $807 for books in 2003. Yearly percentage increases in textbooks costs often exceed that of tuition increases. Sadly, the cost of books has discouraged students from taking certain classes. Over a four-year college career, the cost of textbooks could well exceed $4,000.

Some of textbooks’ cost can be justified. Limited-print runs from small presses combined with research costs add to the expense. However, that is not always the case. According to the California Public Interest Research Group, some publishers add superfluous materials to textbooks, such as CD-ROMs, and frequently issue new editions to justify large price increases.

Savings can be had for those willing to spend hours online or pecking through used-book stores. But for the average student, working jobs and preparing for classes often does not leave such free time. Furthermore, even then many will be forced to return to the student bookstore for some of their purchases.

There are two intriguing options that need to be explored for reducing the cost of textbooks for students. The Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits should be expanded to not only include tuition, but textbook costs as well. Ironically, students who earn too much money to qualify for these tax credits, but not too much to qualify for the less helpful tax deduction, can deduct the cost of books as well as tuition.

Universities in Wisconsin and Illinois currently offer textbook-rental services. Bills are making their way through California to make textbook-rental programs available to public universities. These options should be considered as the first steps toward reducing costs for students.