Alternatives to rising book costs

College is expensive. With increasing tuition coupled with the rising cost of living, there really isn’t a way around it. For students wishing to cut costs while maintaining a full college experience, there are a limited number of choices available. Fortunately, options do exist to lower costs without sacrificing important portions of collegiate life.

After tuition and housing, book expenses are one of the most dreaded costs by college students — and for good reason. A 2012 study by The College Board indicates that the average annual cost of textbooks to a student attending a public, four-year university is $1,168. That cost increased by nearly 3 percent from the previous academic year Additionally, UAA’s Office of Student Financial Assistance lists the average annual cost of “books and supplies” as an estimated $1,575.

For students on a budget, these prices may limit opportunities to take certain courses, or may even lead them to avoid purchasing books altogether.

In 2011, market research group “Student Monitor” reported that 40 percent of students surveyed chose not to purchase all of the required texts, mainly due to financial reasons. While neglecting to purchase the text may work in special cases, failure to do so may also put student’s grades at risk in more demanding courses.

One common solution to rising prices is to buy used textbooks at a discount price, either from the campus bookstore or a private retailer. Online sources such as Chegg.com and Amazon.com may be valuable resources for students, with Chegg advertising a $500 annual savings as compared to purchasing new texts.

For students who wish to get the most out of their money, it is also beneficial to sell used textbooks at the end of each semester. These books can be sold back to private retailers, campus bookstores or directly to fellow students to avoid price mark-ups.

UAA’s Campus Bookstore offers a textbook buyback service, held from Aug. 23-28 to help students offset academic costs by reselling their used books. Similar services may also be offered year round by online private retailers with prices varying between buyers.  Though useful, the major drawback to reselling books is that sale prices can be affected by book surpluses and new editions, thus making them fairly unpredictable.

For students who wish to avoid the hassle of continually buying and selling books, textbook rentals may also be a viable option. According to Smartmoney.com, an affiliate of The Wall Street Journal, textbook rental prices are generally 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than buying the book outright. Textbook rental also eliminates the risk that the book will depreciate in value due to the release of an updated version.

Textbook rental services are frequently offered by traditional online suppliers such as Amazon and Chegg, with the UAA bookstore offering a competitive rental service as well. The downside to rentals however, is that damaged or late books can result in unexpected fees to students, adding to overall costs.

Another alternative to traditional book purchases is the use of electronic textbooks, which students can download directly to their laptops or tablet computers. E-books offer a way to save space and time by storing all required texts on one device, eliminating heavy book loads.

They are often cheaper than traditional print versions and are offered by a variety of online services. However, while convenient, e-books only account for approximately 9 percent of the current textbook market, according to Student Monitor. This, coupled with the necessity of a mobile device, may deter some students from taking advantage of the service.

For most students, the best course of action may be to buy and sell books from their fellow students. This method eliminates the risk of price markups by private suppliers and can result in successful partnerships that students can utilize for their entire academic career. However, the limiting factor in peer book sales is supply. While students may be eager to purchase or trade books, it is highly unlikely that one could obtain all of their required books in this way.

For most students, it may be beneficial to use some combination of methods to gather required books. Checking campus bookstores as well as online providers can help students identify the best deals and lowest prices for their books. While book costs may seem daunting, with the proper research and motivation, students have the opportunity to drastically reduce their annual expenses.

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