University of Oklahoma junior Lindsay Green rents her textbooks and uses a free library reserve program to help save money.
Still, she spent nearly $400 last semester on books and supplies. Green, a political science student from Aledo, Texas, estimates she would have paid about $900 if she bought her books.
Students at four-year public colleges spent an average of $1,137 on books and supplies last academic year, according to the College Board, a national nonprofit membership organization that works to promote excellence and equity in education. Rising costs have colleges, students and professors looking for cheaper alternatives, like the textbook rental and reserve programs Green uses.
Other alternatives include shopping for bargains online, sharing books and using online resources. In many cases, those alternatives can save students hundreds of dollars a semester. Options, however, are still somewhat limited.
Rentals and reserves
Green rents most of her books from a website called Chegg.com. She also uses OU's library textbook reserve program for some of her classes. The program is “wonderful,” Green said.
The university keeps more than 1,700 textbooks on reserve at Bizzell Memorial Library. Many of the books are for courses with the highest enrollments or courses that have relatively high-cost textbooks. Students can use the books for up to two hours at a time, or longer if other students aren't waiting.
This year, OU President David Boren appropriated $200,000 to buy more reserve textbooks for the university's 400 largest courses.
Many campus bookstores are adding textbook rental programs. Textbooks typically rent for about 33 to 55 percent of the new book cost, said Charles Schmidt, a spokesman for the National Association of College Stores, a national nonprofit trade association.
Alfred Bradford, the John Saxon Chair of Ancient History at OU, understands the importance of keeping costs down for students. Bradford's older daughter graduated from OU three years ago and spent $400 to $500 a semester on books.
“It just seemed outrageous to me,” said Bradford, whose younger daughter is a student at the university now.
In an effort to save students money, Bradford has offered to buy books back from his students at half price. He has then offered to resell the books for the same price to students in future classes.
Susan Stansberry, an associate professor of educational technology at Oklahoma State University, challenges her students to see who can find the cheapest copy of their text. Earlier this summer, a student in one of her master's level courses found a copy of the textbook for less than $2. The book sells for about $13 new.
Stansberry, who also serves as associate director of professional education at OSU, said she and other professors often post reading material online through an electronic reserve system students can access for free. One of Stansberry's colleagues had students in a doctorate-level courses write their textbook, Stansberry said. Each student wrote a chapter and they published the book in an electronic format.
“It shows the change in the industry and what can be done now,” Stansberry said.
MaryRose Hart uses an open source textbook for the organizational behaviors class she teaches at Rogers State University. Open source textbooks are available for free online under an open-source license, which allows professors to customize the text. Students who would like a hard copy of the text have a variety of low-cost printing options.
Before Hart made the switch several years ago, her students used a $200 book. Now they can access their text for free online. Students also have the option of buying a paperback copy for $40 or printing chapters for about $3 each.
Hart, an associate professor of business, said she would use open texts for all her classes, but open source books aren't available for every subject.
Tulsa Community College students can buy or sell their books to other TCC students online through a website called Text2Trade. The school received a $154,346 grant from the state Regents for Higher Education several years ago to help offset costs. Almost 2,000 TCC students are registered on the site, said Sean Weins, chief technology officer for TCC.
The site can be adapted for any higher education institution in the state, Weins said, but some schools have noncompete clauses in their contracts with their campus bookstores that would prevent them from adding a similar website.