Renting textbooks can save thousands over a four-year college career, industry experts say.

Renting textbooks can save thousands over a four-year college career, industry experts say.

Buying pricey textbooks has never been a back-to-school highlight for college students, but according to a survey released Aug. 12, students rank textbooks among their leading wastes of money and the “biggest scam” in higher education.

Disdain for the costliness of textbooks was just one of the many financial worries revealed in a survey of college students conducted by online textbook rental company BookRenter, which launched in 2008 and serves about 5,000 college campuses with a library of 3 million textbooks.

The survey results echo a sentiment expressed by many student activists in recent years as textbook prices have soared and web-based book rental web sites have attracted millions of customers with texts often marked down by more than half the retail cost.

College students pay more than $900 annually for textbooks, according to national surveys released in 2008 and 2009, and the cost of textbooks is rising at four times the rate of inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The National Association of College Stores said students pay about $667 per year on required course materials.

Angst about the price of books is coupled by a growing reliance on personal income instead of tuition money or spending cash from parents, according to the survey. About one out of every 10 students expects a “free ride” through college.

The survey also shows that educational costs impact most students’ school choice, and some students aren’t proud of the ways they have earned money to pay their tuition, buy textbooks, and stay in school.

Fifty-seven percent of student respondents who said they “settled” on their current college “did so because of cost, not because they lacked the credentials, and one in seven students said they regret or are embarrassed about ways they earned money while in school to make ends meet,” the survey said.

BookRenter CEO Mehdi Maghsoodnia said respondents to the company’s survey “displayed a tremendous commitment to education, often at great cost to themselves,” adding that renting textbooks has been shown to save hundreds of dollars per semester, allowing students to “focus more on learning than how they’re going to pay for school.”

“People are looking at textbooks as a source of savings,” said Michael Geller, vice president of marketing for BookRenter. “A survey like this shows that there are students bending over backwards and going every which way to get themselves through college.”

Geller added that when the survey results were tallied last month, he was “slightly surprised at the degree at which people are having trouble paying for college.”

A spokeswoman for Chegg, another leading online book rental company that serves more than 6,400 college campuses, said a student who uses Chegg to rent textbooks instead of buy them for full price can save up to $2,000 over a four-year college career.

The BookRenter survey, conducted by San Francisco-based Q & A Research, Inc., drew from a national online panel of students attending four-year colleges and universities. The results were collected from May 24-June 15.

Five in 10 students said that if they were given an extra $500, they would put the money toward education-related costs, 11 percent said they would give the money to their parents, and 11 percent would use the cash to pay down their credit card debt, according to the survey.

The survey also contains a tidbit that won’t come as welcome news for parents: Nearly seven in 10 college students believed they would be “somewhat financially dependent on their parents after graduation,” and 20 percent said they would have to move back home with mom and dad after school.

A quick look through BookRenter’s online library shows that some textbooks are marked down more than 70 percent from list price. A Microeconomics textbook is available to rent for $37.70, about one-third of the list price.

A book on criminal investigations can be rented for $50.09 through BookRenter, according to the web site. The full price of that book is $162.95.And a book titled Living with Art is marked down from $131 to $54 on the BookRenter site.

Start-up companies aren’t the only players in the growing book rental marketplace–the web-based service has also drawn interest from one of the largest book retailers in the world. Barnes & Noble announced in January that it would allow college students to rent their textbooks from the company’s web site.

The new program, available though campus bookstores or the stores’ web sites, began as a pilot program in three campus bookstores in the fall. It has now been expanded to 25 bookstores.

Some college bookstores that will offer the program include Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and the University of South Carolina.

Barnes & Noble said books will rent for 42.5 percent of their original price, so a $100 book would cost $42.50 to rent for the entire term. Textbooks can be rented at book stores or online–with online orders shipped to a campus bookstore.

The effort is operated through the New York company’s subsidiary, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers LLC. Barnes & Noble bought the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers unit back from its chairman last year in a deal worth $596 million.

The climbing cost of textbooks has drawn the ire of Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who proposed and helped pass legislation aimed at trimming students’ annual textbook bill.

The new federal law’s provision requiring colleges and universities to provide lists of assigned textbooks for each course–including prices and ISBNs–will give students time to shop around the internet and local book stores for the best deal, instead of having to order the book within a week or two of the start of each semester.

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