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March 20, 2014

Faculty, SGA discuss alternatives to new
textbooks

Reducing cost of new textbooks not an option, say CSU faculty

By Jordan Gonzalez

Students have long bemoaned the textbook industry, which is a $10.45 billion business that costs the average student $662 a year according to a report by the National Associate of College Stores.

Although many students agree that tuition is a large part of their expense, for a student tuition is often a future temporarily burden softened by loans. But textbooks are often paid straight from student’s pockets.

The size of the financial burden all depends on the classes and the amount of classes a student takes.

Laura Stoffko, a senior double-majoring in biology and chemistry at Cleveland State, knows first-hand of the textbook price woes since she’s had required textbooks in almost every class.

Science books, of which nearly every student will purchase at some point during their education, are often more expensive, Stoffko said. Most of her major’s required textbooks cost between $200-$300. If she was “lucky,” she’d only spend around $150 for a paperback edition.

Her average cost of books per semester was around $400-$500, although one semester she remembers spending over $900 on textbooks for three classes.

And Stoffko still has med school to go through and all of its required textbooks.

“It never ends,” she said.

What can be done

At the Feb. 12 faculty senate meeting, the topic was brought up by Allison Dumski, president of Cleveland State’s Student Government Association during her monthly address. She asked faculty to help, and suggested alternative options (such as exams based off of slides), accurately labeling if a book is necessary, consistent textbooks across classes and more library rental options.

Her suggestions fostered much discussion and won the praise of President Ronald Berkman, and Provost Deirdre Mageean. Professor Joanne Goodell, president of faculty senate, said she “highly endorses” addressing the growing concern among students about growing expense of textbooks.

The idea of the library renting more textbooks for students to use was not supported by faculty. Many professors agreed there is no budget for such an idea and that there are legal obstacles.

In an interview with The Cleveland Stater, Dumski laid out her goals for tackling textbook prices, which include awareness, more textbooks at the library, more accurate labels if a book is necessary, and the standardization of textbooks in general education classes.

“Basically awareness is the number one [goal],” Dumski said. “There are lots of little things that can be done that aren’t necessarily done all the time.”

Despite the reservations in the faculty senate meeting over the library or departments reserving textbooks, she said such a plan is feasible, and SGA will be reaching out to Ohio State University to see how their textbook reserve was started.

“The whole textbook reserve can most definitely be a possibility,” Dumski said. “By having a textbook available for each department for the books that they’re assigning should not be out of the question and should be a reality.”

At least one assigned text book should be available in the tutoring office or the library, Dumski said. The library has limited space and selection, but that could be fixed by standardizing books in departments. They could also utilize the tutoring department to store textbooks, she said, especially for books that aren’t required.

Legal concerns

Dr. Robert Krebs, professor in the College of Science and Health Professions, thought the topic of textbook reservation was great to discuss, but he said it could never be formally enforced.

“It’s something we cannot have a policy on because technically it is fudging copyrights,” Krebs said.

Not only is there a legal obstruction, but he said libraries have higher costs for their books because they are purchasing a multi-use license.

“So that really isn’t a good solution to reduce prices,” Krebs said. “If you make it into a big program, the publishers are going to crack down.”

Dumski thinks such concerns are premature.

“Schools all over have textbook reserves and do just fine,” Dumski said. “After we do some research on what other schools do, we can see how we can apply that to CSU.”

An Individual effort

Krebs believes one way to fix the problem is by individual effort from the professors. He recommends methods he has used, such as alerting students of the previous editions of textbooks (which he said is “the number one cost-savings” action), writing his own lab manuals, getting information about the required book early so students can find cheaper priced books, and utilizing primary literature (scholarly articles, scientific journals) as required text.

While he promotes and uses these methods, he understands there are some drawbacks. For one, creating a custom lab manual, while it greatly reduces costs for students, takes a lot of time and effort that not every professor has or cares to invest in (this also eliminates most part-time faculty who teach a lot of general education courses).

“The work to produce your lab book initially is huge,” Krebs said. “But it is one way to really reduce costs. For me I feel it’s worth it because it’s not like I’m producing a lab book for twenty students ,”(he has up to 110 students in his classes).

Furthermore, students who don’t sign up early won’t benefit if he posts which book is required for a class, and using primary literature really only works for upper division courses.

“The expensive textbook saves the instructor a huge amount of time,” Krebs said. “It comes with all the little accessories and information.”

The student’s role

Students can also play a part, said Dr. Eileen Berlin Ray, professor of communication. She agrees with many of the ideas Krebs suggested, but she sees two sides to the situation.

“I think students need to take responsibility and know that there are other places they can get books for cheaper and there are other ways you can do it,” Berlin Ray said. “Students need to know what those sites are and they need to know to get moving on it before the semester starts, so it’s not coming in late and get the books for cheap.”

She encourages her students to buy the previous edition of a textbook, which is dramatically cheaper, and she also suggested students should be able to rent or buy individual chapters.

“My goal is to not have PowerPoint slides that go over everything that is in the book – [the students] have to do that,” Berlin Ray said. “They can choose to not buy the book, but if they do that they’re not going to get enough from class discussion to do well.”

Too busy for change?

Cleveland State faculty are exhausted from the 4-3 credit conversion, which has taken up most extra time that faculty might have in the past few months, said Krebs. He doesn’t think much will get done in regards to textbook price concerns for the immediate future, although he praises the fact the Faculty Senate discussed it.

“We’re swamped – it just is the wrong time for us to make this push,” Dr. Krebs said. “It’s probably the time to get the message out.”

But Berlin Ray thinks now is the time to alert students of new problems that will arise due to the 4-3 conversion such as even more textbooks being needed.

“I think it’s exactly appropriate because students are going to notice [the changes] in the fall,” Berlin Ray said. “Like I’ve said before the 4-3 makes it worse, and now they’re going to have to add another class and it’s [more] textbooks in there.”

How the business side works

Students, faculty and those on the retail side all agree that there is little to nothing that anyone at Cleveland State could do to directly reduce the cost of textbooks, as that is something set by the publishers.

“I don’t think that anybody, the administration or Student Government, is going to ever come up with a cure for what will always be perceived as high prices,” said Keith McCann, Director of Viking Outfitters. “I can show you a document from 1915 that students were complaining about a book going up five cents.”

The reason why, McCann said, is because of the way the industry is structured. For every dollar that a student pays for a new book, 75 cents of that is going straight to the publisher. Whatever money that is left goes to rent, labor and other things associated with business.

Then, that quarter is split again, since Neebo (the Nebraska-based owner of Viking Outfitters) and Cleveland State share profits.

“For every dollar you spend here on new book, I have a quarter to work with,” McCann said. “Right now, 13 cents of that quarter goes to the university. That leaves me 12 cents [per dollar] to pay the bills.”

Rental and used book prices – which turn into a supply and demand situation –play off of the new book price. In the days before the Internet, the used book price formula was fairly standard. Used books were always priced 25 percent less than new books, because bookstores were buying books back from students for about 50 percent. Back then the margin on used books was about 33 percent.

The Internet has turned the market into a “dynamic environment,” said McCann, with everything from Amazon, Chegg and web-access codes affect the buyback price of books and the used book and rental prices.

“All those things end up impacting what it is that we can sell or rent [a book] at,” McCann said. “It’s not a simple equation.”

Aside from professors putting information on slides and accurately labeling online if a book is truly required, Dumski said some progress has already been made with the provost and the president, who both agree with the idea of standardizing general education textbooks. She said such measures would also help make the textbook reservation possible.

“I can’t change textbooks, but what I can change is what textbooks teachers are assigning,” Dumski said. “Hopefully we can address the issue of pricing by our decisions, whether it be assigning an older edition or providing handouts of slides or using blackboard more to post questions.”