Area universities take new approaches to curb cost of textbooks

The cost of college textbooks has increased faster than the rate of inflation for the last 20 years, forcing students like Austin Rains to take out bigger student loans.

As an undergraduate at Wright State University, Rains said he would not have been able to afford his textbooks if it hadn’t been for his student loans and the jobs he worked at the school. Now a a graduate student studying business at Wright State, Rains said he’s paid up to $350 for a single book and has heard of students spending as much as $500 or $600 on one.

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The high prices have drawn attention from lawmakers and forced universities to figure out how to help students afford course materials without racking up such big bills.

“It’s astronomically high,” Rains said. “It’s very frustrating when you’re a student who takes out loans and already has to find ways to afford a college education to then have to purchase extremely expensive textbooks.”

Wright State, along with the University of Dayton, Wittenberg University, Miami University and others, are all trying to address the high cost of college books. Soon, Wright State will launch a pilot program to try to lower the cost of textbooks that Rains helped establish.

The program, called Inclusive Courseware, will start in six classes at Wright State this spring and will eventually be expanded to at least 20 classes next fall, WSU professor Dan Krane told the board of trustees earlier this month. Krane is also part of the team that has been developing the program that lets the university use the collective buying power of the student body to negotiate better prices for textbooks and online content.

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In all, the pilot program could save students in the six classes a combined $50,000. If it is eventually implemented at all of Ohio’s public universities and community colleges, it could save students a combined $300 million per year.

“It doesn’t impinge in any way on a faculty member’s ability to choose a book. It just provides a vehicle for collective negotiating,” said Krane, who is also a member of Wright State’s task force on affordability and efficiency.

Wright State's new initiative comes after Gov. John Kasich tried to address the cost of textbooks through his biannual budget. Kasich wanted to allow colleges to charge students $300 to provide them all of their textbooks but that proposal was scrapped by legislators in the final version of the 2018 and 2019 budget plans.

Although the governor didn’t get what he wanted, more schools are testing ways to make textbooks more affordable for students.

The University of Dayton started giving out a book scholarship of around $4,000 to students who visit campus and fill out a FAFSA application, officials have said. Miami University and a few other schools have also started offering open source educational materials that are free to use or copy.

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Wittenberg University’s Barnes & Noble student bookstore launched a new price matching program last spring and the program really started taking off this fall, said Amy Dalton, manager of Wittenberg’s bookstore.

Students can use the price matching program if they find an unused textbook they need that costs less on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble’s website. Students simply have to show a bookstore worker the lower priced textbook listed online and the Wittenberg store will then give the student the book at the same price, Dalton said.

“There are some parameters to it but for the most part our students are loving that option,” Dalton said. “Most of them are finding out about it the day they walk in but they’ve adapted to it really well.”

By the numbers

6: Number of classes undergoing new textbook pilot program at WSU.

$300 million: Money that could be saved if WSU pilot program was at every college.

$4,000: Book scholarship UD offers to visiting students who apply for FAFSA.

$300: Textbook fee proposed by the governor that was scrapped from state budget.

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