How to Overcome the College Textbook Crisis

According to College Board, the National Association of College Stores reported that “students spent an average of $415 on course materials, $419 on technology, and $108 on supplies.”

To further put this into perspective, $400 can be the cost of a returning trip home to spend quality time with family for Thanksgiving, Easter, and other National holidays. The students who are most impacted by these costs are low-income, first generation students who are already statistically at a disadvantage when entering higher education institutions. Not to mention, choosing to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks instead of a trip home can be detrimental on the mental health of such students. Some students are faced with risking everything for their education and the hopes of a better future for their family, but at what cost?

As NBC News reported, there has been a skyrocketing 1,041 percent increase in textbook prices since 1977.

If you are a first year or an optimist like myself a year ago, you might be thinking how can administration and the government ever allow this? Shouldn’t educating the future professionals of this country be one of the nation’s top priorities? Well, as economics professor from Cal Tech R. Preston McAfee put it:

both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

In a typical academic year, students take an average of 30 credits, or 10 classes per academic year. In my personal experience, I completed around 15 courses this first year. To give you some perspective, for just one of my courses, a textbook costed $210.

The time and money it takes to get textbooks for all of your courses may be strenuous, but I utilized the following tips throughout my first year, and I spent $100 or less the entire year on my textbooks.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Connect with other students, especially upperclassmen who may have already taken your course. Many students are looking to re-sell their textbooks at a discounted price.
  2. Some upperclassmen or students in your level may even have the free PDF’S of the textbook. They can share this file with you on Google Drive.
  3. Almost every college student knows about the websites that are able to provide a ~discounted or free~ price of textbooks.
  4. Your school library may have these textbooks available for free! They are called “library/course reserves” and you can usually rent the book for a couple of hours each day or for a couple of days for free. Now because of the pandemic, some may offer a free digital version of these textbooks if you request them.
  5. If you email your professor, some may be understanding..especially right now. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask. “If you don’t ask you won’t get!”-As an HSF employee named Giuliana once said. I asked a professor in the past and they ended up sharing the most important pages/content of the textbook on their Canvas site for free. I ended up getting an A+ in that class! Utilize the power of asking. Some professors are very open to helping their students, as they should! Those are the individuals who belong in academia. 
  6. Sell textbooks that you currently own and use that money to buy new textbooks (I tried this and it worked out too) 
  7. Some colleges may have resource centers where they may lend out grants or (try to use this as a last resort) loans for textbooks.
  8. I know Cornell offered a “lending library” in Annabel Taylor Hall (the location might change now). Investigate if your college offers a discounted price or free library full of used textbooks. It’s worth a shot to check if the textbook you need is in these locations.
  9. I haven’t tried this yet, but utilize the power of social media! (LinkedIn, SC, Twitter, Reddit) Perhaps if you ask people about a textbook that you need, they will help you find it. One might even own that textbook or know where you can find it.

I know everything seems so uncertain right now, but I hope these tips help narrow down your search for a textbook. Just take a deep breath and do your thing. I hope this school year brings peace and clarity for you. I believe in you.

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