Exchanging time & patience for textbook hell

No college student can make it all the way through the years without having to purchase books. They’re absolutely essential for our day-to-day school work and probably the most beneficial tool that aids us in passing our classes. The fact that students have to buy the textbook assigned by their professor seems to be the reason why book prices have shot up so drastically over each passing year.

It’s stated in a report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) that college textbook prices increased three times the rate of inflation over the last decade. Personally, I know buying five or six books at West Virginia University’s Book Exchange have easily cost me 400 to 500 dollars per semester, so about 1000 dollars just for one year of classes. Thus far, I’ve spent roughly 4500 dollars on books. Yikes.

“About one in four first-year students and one in three seniors frequently did not purchase required academic materials because of cost, says a 2012 study by the non-profit National Survey of Student Engagement.”–USA Today

So let’s throw the general pricing issues to the side for a minute and focus on one of the more ridiculous, yet unanswered issues I’ve noticed with these local book stores around campus. They never seem to have enough books for all of the students! If the professors are ordering the books, I’m assuming by the exact student roster total for each of their classes, then why aren’t there enough books? It simply just doesn’t make any sense.

Normally a student has to wait until good ol’ syllabus week to figure out which books are needed for each particular course. That gives each student one week to come up with the funds, and go search for these books. May the odds be ever in your favor. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have had to drive back and forth between the two Book Exchanges set out for a single book—the missing link. Even though the map says it’s only a seven minute trip, traffic is ridiculous in Morgantown and adds a large amount of time to any “quick” trip. The downtown store is out, they resort to calling the other location on Evansdale, then stare at you with that optimistic look as they offer to order it for you. Nice gesture, but some professors here at WVU actually have reading assignments due during the first week (buzz kill, I know), especially in upper-level classes where more is expected of their students. Not having enough textbooks clearly leaves people short on time to hunt it down, or order from another website, placing textbook buyers in somewhat of a pickle.

Not only do these book stores not having enough supply stress students out, it has to be extremely upsetting and annoying for the professors who just want to get the ball rolling and begin teaching. I’m sure almost every professor in Morgantown has had their email accounts flooded with messages from frantic students explaining they do not have the materials for the assignment. Yet this is a reoccurring issue year after year and these stores still do not do anything to resolve it.

Majority of professors seem to be realizing this common issue along with the lack of energy for book stores to fix it, and are starting to come up with temporary solutions. Some professors place copies of the required text in both downtown and Evansdale libraries. Though there are usually only one or two copies available for a few hours at a time, these WVU professors are helping students get past these obstacles when purchasing books. Some professors even photocopy the first chapter or so to get students started, which could probably get them into some type of copyright mess but it’s much appreciated that they are trying to help their fellow Mountaineers.

Moral of the story is:
If you’re going to force students to spend such an immense amount of money on reading materials, then the bookstores should be required to have the exact number of copies for each class at every single store location.


12 thoughts on “Exchanging time & patience for textbook hell

  1. Karlea,

    This is definitely a persistent problem at WVU. Here’s my opinion—

    I don’t understand why professor aren’t straightforward about whether students will actually need the textbook or not. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve purchased a textbook, never opened it, and still made an A in the class. Sometimes the book is just not a necessity because the tests/other grades are based on lectures and other assignments. I think that professors should be honest about it.

    You could use this topic for another blog post as well — the process of returning books. One time I went to Book Holders to return my books because I saw that everyone was tweeting about how much money they got back for their books (they received a free iTunes coupon when they tweeted about it). I went there and they told me that I would get $1 back for my books, and I wouldn’t get that dollar back until someone else purchased the book from them. They explained that by that point I would receive less than a dollar because they took money away if the book was not purchased by a certain date. Completely unbelievable! It was a book that I paid over $200 for! I’d like to know how this works. They make a crazy amount of profit off of this process…I think students should be aware how badly they are getting ripped off and why it is done this way.

    • I’ve had that problem too, Maddi. I understand that students learn differently from one another; some may rely heavily on the textbook, while others get the most use from their own lecture notes. But I’ve had classes in which the textbook was not integrated into the lectures, if at all. In those situations, professors/departments should be ask themselves if a textbook is really needed.

      One of the best classes I had in undergrad was American Journalism History. Dr. Esper knew a ton about journalism history, and we had many guest speakers with great insights too. We did not have a textbook and did not need one. I think there are plenty of other classes where the expertise of the professor and guests could eliminate the need for a book.

  2. Karlea- I think this is a really great post. It’s informational, has great links, and is completely relevant to every WVU (as well as every other college) student. I understand that the bookstores probably under-order because so many students don’t ever buy the books (and the stores don’t want to lose money), but that does make it difficult for those students that actually want to buy and use the textbook. I think another great post could be alternate places to get books. I have ordered my books online, bought them from Book Holders, and even traded books with other students. Once, while waiting for a book to come in, I went to the university bookstore, found the book, sat in cafe and did my homework, and then put the book back.

  3. I have not yet had a semester where I didn’t have to scramble on account of the bookstores in Morgantown. I have frequently had books that were completely gone on the tuesday of syllabus week. This is one of the most obnoxious problems facing college students at WVU. The prices and overall lack of professionalism by the university and the bookstore is leading students to try getting by without buying textbooks, which I feel is diminishing the quality of education we are receiving.

  4. I’ve also wondered this exact same thing! I actually recently had this experience. I had a class where my teacher told us originally that one certain book wasn’t required, but then made us get the book. I scrambled to get the book from the Book Exchange, and neither of the locations had the book in stock, so they had to order one for me. I have always wondered why there never seem to be enough books to go around. I think this is really hurting students not only at WVU, but at universities all across the country both in their bank accounts and in their education.
    It would be interesting to hear the perspective of someone who works at either the bookstore or the Book Exchange on why the books always seem to run out. Do they order books based on last semester’s enrollment list?

  5. Careful with this post! It’s a great personal blog post, and I love your voice; really shines through. The personal touches of the map showing your car ride really show how strongly you feel about the subject.

    However! I worry that you have focused too much on the first part of your blog’s mission statement, and not enough on the second; that is, you don’t do anything in particular to solve this problem for your readers. There are plenty of resources online for getting textbooks used, rented or digital for very cheap — need ’em quick? Sign up for the free trial of Amazon Prime, and they’ll send you it next-day shipping for free. Maybe a good idea for this week’s post would be a followup, where you explore these other options?

    • I agree. There are tons of other options for books. Even just asking around can get everyone a good deal. My freshman year I sold a book to a friend for $75. She would have had to pay $100 at the book store, and I still made more than the book store would have given me! I wonder if there’s anyone else who has had success with something like that, or even just posting fliers. That would be an interview I’d want to read.

  6. Textbooks are like gasoline – people can’t live without them. Sellers can decide on their own price as a result.

    It’s stupid that I can get on the internet and find a book for literally 1/100th of the price of the book in the bookstore. Even these “cheaper” alternatives like Bookholders don’t help – they’re just as bad as Barnes and Noble. What we need is a book seller who matches internet prices. As a result, other bookstores in town will have to drop their prices exponentially in order to compete with that seller’s good deals. It’s basic economics.

    Fat chance of that, though. You’ll never convince the Geography department to stop requiring $90 disposable workbooks. Thank God I’m a journalism major and we don’t have that many books to buy. I’ve watched Bio majors drop $700 a semester EVERY TIME – and that’s online, on the cheap sites. Sometimes their book has special legalese that prevents it from being bought online in the US – the students have to buy them from sketchy foreign websites, often in India.

    Here’s my favorite cheap book site. In my opinion, even Amazon is overpriced.

  7. I really like reading your posts! They’re very conversational, natural, yet substantial. There are some teachers who even say, “They tell us not to tell you to buy books anywhere except through the University, but there are cheaper ways to get it”. (hint, hint)

    It only makes the guys on top appear money-hungry…such a shame! I do like Bryan’s suggestion for including cheap alternatives. It’s good to know we have options!

  8. Good idea, but a little undersourced, and you don’t get to the main idea until the fourth graf. Tell us why to care right away! There’s a story here, but it needs more. Check your last link, too – it’s not working.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s