Kanye’s Twitter Rant Says What Everyone is Thinking: The Cost of Textbooks is Too High

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Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on February 26, 2016 at 9:08 am
Kanye’s Twitter Rant Says What Everyone is Thinking: The Cost of Textbooks is Too High

The cost of college textbooks may not seem like a celebrity cause, but in one of his recent Twitter rants, rapper and fashion designer Kanye West encapsulated what countless students have been thinking for years: the price of college course material has to be more affordable.

West got fired up about the cost of college text books after a friend’s son had to shell out $400, underscoring a real problem in America. Cash strapped families are not only struggling to pay for school – they also afford the often exorbitant cost of text books.

Consider this. According to the College Board, students at a four-year public college will need $1,200 a year to cover textbooks and supplies. That expense is, of course, going to vary among majors. An English major may shell out the cost of a few novels for a semester, while a chemistry major may spend $250 for a single beginning chemistry textbook. “It’s really a wide diversity of costs,” says Jade Roth, chief executive of Flat World, a publisher of college material. “Many students are grappling with the cost of tuition and life expenses, and textbooks are something that’s unforeseen.”

When it comes to just how expensive textbooks are, there are varying figures out there. While the College Board says $1,200, the National Association of College Stores says that in the 2014/2015 school year, the cost of course material was $563, down 20% from 2007-2008, when students spent $701. Still, even $500 is a lot for students who can barely afford their tuition, even with financial aid and grants. According to a report from consumer watchdog ConnPIRG,  a quarter of students surveyed use financial aid to pay for books.

Textbooks have long been a big out of pocket expense for college students, and some would argue, for good reason. Textbooks need to be credible learning materials, with many of them undergoing peer review. In essence, they represent the curriculum for the semester, and as a result cost more to make than your average best-seller. But while it’s important to have quality text books, it’s also important to have affordable ones. After all, what good is a college textbook if students can’t afford to read it?

Digital downloads lower the cost of textbooks

Today, students do have ways to save money when it comes to course materials. Hearkening back to the pre-Internet days, students were often able to get used textbooks for a fraction of the cost. While that’s still true, the Internet has ushered in the era of digital books, making it even more affordable for students. Take Flat World, which creates text books students can access online. “A digital textbook is anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent cheaper than a new print. The savings is pretty dramatic,” says Roth.

What sets Flat World apart from other publishers is that it enables faculty members to customize the content.  Take the Civil Rights movement as an example. If professors at one school felt that a history textbook didn’t portray the civil rights movement correctly based on current events, they could customize it to make it more relevant. Students can search by professor for the assigned textbook, choose whether they want a digital copy or a print copy, and then checkout.  An introduction to psychology textbook at Flat World is going to cost $24, which Jade points out is significantly less than other psychology books on the market.

Students have different ways to save

Because students are beholden to the text book their professor chooses, there are other ways to save, depending on the material.  According to the National Association of College Stores, nearly all college campus stores offer students the ability to rent text books, purchase used versions or download digital course materials. The National Association of College Stores says that by choosing one of those options, students can access course materials for around one-third to half the cost of purchasing a new college textbook.

The Internet also makes college students savvier shoppers. That’s because there are several websites that let you compare prices on textbooks without having to spend hours visiting each online store. The National Association of College noted that many colleges and universities encourage professors and faculty members to consider assigning open educational resources, which is material that is in the public domain or can be accessed with an open license.  Students can even check with their professor to see how heavily he or she will rely on the textbook. If the professor only plans to use it for a chapter or two, it may be okay to skip purchasing it altogether.

The cost of textbooks have gone up a lot over the past few decades, even if students have more opportunities to save than ever before. With  tuition marching higher each year and the nation stuck with more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, textbooks are yet another outsize expense for students to contend with. As Kanye illustrated with these three tweets: “Education puts Americans into debt before they even get a chance to get started… We have to lower the price of textbooks… I’d rather teachers got paid more and books cost less …”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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