December 9, 2010


Colleges ponder ways to lower textbook costs

SUNY Cortland to begin book rental program; TC3 to offer more online access to books

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Tompkins Cortland Community College freshmen Jamie Urquhart, right, of Sandy Creek, and Maggie Vischer, of Saranac Lake, pick up books in late August at the college’s bookstore.

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College are exploring ways to help students lower their textbook bills.
SUNY Cortland will begin offering students the chance to rent books, starting in the spring semester. How many courses and books has yet to be decided, said Terry Cahill, College Store manager.
TC3’s campus store will offer free online books in two courses this spring. So many students now have cell phones with Internet capability, or are trying out devices for reading digital copies of books, that it seemed a logical move, said Dean of Campus Technology Marty Christofferson.
College students spend an average of more than $900 per year on textbooks, across the nation.
Online books can be offered as free “open source” publications or purchased as e-books at a much lower price, as publishers and bookstores gamble that lower-priced books will still generate profits as they sell in greater numbers.
Five TC3 math faculty will begin in the next year to use a free online version of a statistics textbook written by Khaki Wunderlich, the college’s associate dean of learning support and organizational development.
Christofferson said online textbooks are sometimes made available free by foundations or by authors who think they have made enough money from printed versions of their books.
He said TC3’s bookstore is also planning to rent textbooks to students.
Books must be required for a course for four semesters to be rented, Christofferson said. The store’s manager, Follett Bookstores, would purchase copies of the book and rent them.
Christofferson said that could start next year when the college begins teaching Microsoft 2010 in its technology courses.
E-books fit the technology that students own, even students who might not come from high-income families.
“I think about half of our students have Internet access through their cell phones,” Christofferson said. “They have BlackBerries and smart phones. They also can access resources through computers, Amazon’s Kindle, IPad and other methods. You can store 100 digital books in some of these devices.”
Students who really want to purchase a physical copy of a book can do so at a reduced rate, Christofferson said.
High textbook expenses can cause some students to withdraw from college or not enroll at all, he said.
Christofferson said the challenge is that faculty can be slow to adopt new technologies in their teaching, starting with a few who begin using it right away while others figure out how it fits into how they manage their classroom and courses.
He said that was true of Blackboard, a website service that professors use at many colleges to post assignments, syllabi, student discussions and links to resources such as articles. Blackboard was introduced about five years ago and faculty learned how to make it part of their teaching and course administration.
TC3 continues to encourage faculty to include newer technologies in their classes, such as video or podcast.
SUNY Cortland has not discussed offering online textbooks, Cahill said, but is beginning to offer rented books.
“We always try to provide value for students, so investigating different ways to have a rental program makes sense,” he said.
He said other college stores that offer textbook rental offer mixed reviews, as students sometimes prefer to purchase books so they can sell the books back at the end of the semester to recover up to half of the cost.
“Students don’t overwhelmingly choose the rental option,” he said.
Cahill said students would not necessarily be able to highlight books with pen or marker if they are rented, although used books sometimes have highlighted sections.
The movement for rented textbooks got a push five years ago from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s Affordable Books for College Act, which created a pilot program for book rentals at some campuses. The National Association of College Stores says 1,300 of roughly 3,000 member stores now offer textbook rentals, according to Schumer.


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