Photo by Chris Swann and graphic by Madison Heiser
One essential supply nearly every college student must purchase is textbooks. In an era of increasingly digitized media, textbooks are becoming more available in the form of ebooks and bundles requiring single-use access codes. Considering countless students pay for books and supplies out-of-pocket, many pose the question: why are textbooks so expensive, and how can students minimize the cost?
Though tuition at community and junior colleges is typically less expensive than four-year colleges, two-year students spend more money on general out-of-pocket expenses. According to CollegeBoard, an in-district student at a public two-year institution spends an average of $1,440 per year on books and supplies, compared to $1,240 per year at both private and public four-year institutions. Tyler Junior College estimates a student’s average cost of books and supplies at $1,800 per year.
TJC freshman Jayla Black shared her thoughts about textbook costs.
“I spent almost $500 on four books. It’s harder for those on financial aid, like with loans. I still had to pay for classes,” Black said.
Some students have had little to no issues purchasing textbooks this semester.
“My experience purchasing textbooks this year has been really good,” said Genesis Baze, a freshman at TJC. “I don’t think there is anything unfair about textbook prices.”
According to Vox, a general interest news site, four textbook publishers control more than 80% of the market: Pearson, Cengage, Wiley and McGraw-Hill. Because of the lack of competition among textbook publishers, these major companies can inflate prices with the understanding that their books are the only ones available to students. Additionally, in the current digital age, these publishers are manufacturing single-use access codes for ebooks and digital content that prevent students from buying used books. Some professors require these access codes in their courses for the convenience of digital content.
“I feel like half the stuff they sell shouldn’t be so expensive,” Black said. “Some people are really short on money, especially because of COVID. Now’s a time more than ever to drop the prices,” Black said.
Many TJC students have expressed frustration with the campus bookstore’s online resources. Some books are listed in students’ required course materials online, but professors do not require those books in their courses.
“I think TJC could do a better job of letting you know which books you need,” Baze said.
TJC Bookstore Manager Karan Sustaire gave insight into how the bookstore determines textbook listings.
“We get the adoptions from the director of the department for all the sections. If there is one instructor who determines, ‘I don’t need the book,’ we don’t know. We are not given that information,” Sustaire said. “If we were given that, it would be extremely helpful … then we wouldn’t have this return issue.”
Some colleges, including TJC, allow students to utilize financial aid to pay for textbooks. However, this often requires students to rent or buy books at full price through the institution’s bookstore, racking up costs and potentially inflating student loans. For students without financial aid or those wishing to minimize student debt, textbooks must be purchased with personal funds.
Despite the rising costs of textbooks, there are several resources available to help students save money. Amazon offers digital and used versions of textbooks for both temporary and permanent use. Chegg.com also offers used textbooks, as well as a platform for students to sell textbooks they no longer need.