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.