The sticker shock that comes when college students take a look at the latest course textbooks prices is leading to some creative and unusual remedies.

In California, a partnership between West Valley College and Second Harvest Food Bank lets students borrow textbooks in exchange for canned-food donations.

At Bluefield College in Virginia, students can pay one flat, discounted fee that allows them to receive all their required textbooks before classes start.

“It’s no wonder that colleges and students need to think outside the box when it comes to textbooks; they represent a staggering cost that just seems to get worse,” says Chris Manns, managing director of the price-comparison websites and Both free services aim to help students locate the cheapest prices for millions of books.

One study by the Student Public Interest Research Groups showed that the cost for college textbooks has risen 73 percent over the last decade – more than four times the inflation rate.

“Sometimes the expenses aren’t even necessary,” Manns says. “For example, students might be required to buy a ‘book bundle’ with extra class materials that add to the cost. Often professors don’t even use some items in those bundles.”

Outside of a few innovative programs, such as that textbook-in-exchange-for-food-donation arrangement, the options for most students boil down to buying or renting.

“Renting might seem the obvious choice because of the price,” Manns says. “But that’s not always the case.  When you look a little deeper, you could find you’d be better off buying the book and selling it later.”

(Next page: Considerations students take in considering buying vs. renting course textbooks)

Manns says there are a few factors students consider when weighing rent vs. buy for course textbooks:

  • How soon do I want the book? Do I prefer getting my textbooks well before class starts? Then buying might be the way to go. When student rent course textbooks, they need to return the book before the due date. If they rent too soon the due date will arrive before the semester ends. Hang onto the book and they’ll be charged a late fee. Most of the time, this added cost isn’t much, but it can add up if they’re really late getting the textbook back to the merchant.
    • Do I value convenience? If so, then renting is probably the best option. Students don’t have to worry about reselling the course textbook after the class ends–they simply print a shipping label and send it back to the merchant.
    • Is the book all I need? Sometimes students need to have supplemental software that comes with the textbook. But most textbook-rental merchants don’t offer the supplemental software when they rent a textbook.

Right now, most students are considering their course textbook buying options. Their fall classes are well underway and they’ll likely be buying textbooks for the spring semester in early January. But Manns says it could be financially prudent to start planning now for how to get the best bargains.

“Many college students are already strapped for cash, counting out coins to pay for a meal or worrying about whether they’ll have enough gas money to get home for a holiday,” he says. “They need to look for ways to save everywhere, and if they can get by without a textbook or at least with a cheaper version, then so much the better.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.

Add your opinion to the discussion.