College students go without textbooks as prices rise

UC Riverside tuition and fees have risen by $2,000 since last year.

Six in 10 students at the University of California, Riverside said they forgo purchasing recommended class supplies—including textbooks—because they’re strapped for cash.

The findings from UC Riverside, a campus of 20,000 students, reflect results of similar surveys conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), an organization that has pushed for open online textbook programs that could slash book costs to a fraction of the $1,000 student spend today.

And while 60 percent of respondents to the UC Riverside survey said they “skipped buying [schools supplies] entirely,” two-thirds of students said they postponed buying textbooks and other supplies, leaving them without necessary class material in the first weeks of a course.

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“As instructors, we need to think about how to make course materials available to our students,” said Steven Brint, the university’s vice provost for undergraduate education who commissioned the survey of more than 5,300 undergraduates. “But at the end of the day reading is essential to learning. Instructors should continue to assess whether students are reading assigned materials.”

UC Riverside students said the price of textbooks – especially when they’re not available via rental services or buy-back programs – has had a major impact on their social lives.

Eight in 10 students said they spent less money on food to cope with book costs, and 83 percent cut back on going out with friends.

Brint said UC Riverside instructors and professors have done what they can to make textbooks more affordable. Some faculty members have made book copies available on the campus library’s reserve list. Others have posted textbook material on an online learning program called iLearn.

The university’s book store and Student Affairs officials responded to the survey findings by creating an on-campus book rental program designed to save students up to half off on their annual textbook purchases.

The school also launched R’Books, a website that lets UC Riverside students trade and sell books among each other rather than advertising the books on popular sites like Craigslist and Amazon.

“These were some things that we had been considering doing for a long time, but seeing these numbers really motivated us to act,” said Danny Kim, associate vice chancellor at UC Riverside.

Textbook costs are just part of the financial squeeze felt by most UC Riverside students included in the survey.

Tuition is now more than $13,000, with tuition and student fees rising by $2,000 from the 2010-11 academic year. The increases have coincided with a dramatic spike in poverty rates among neighboring towns and cities, according to the university.

The trend of college students taking classes without essential material was among the concerns expressed by organizers of the Textbook Rebellion, a nationwide tour of 40 campuses in 14 states during the fall semester.

Textbook Rebellion launched a website that collects petition signatures aiming to show the widespread support for course textbooks that cost $30 or less, including online books that can be converted to traditional texts through an inexpensive printing process.

Textbook prices have risen by about four times the rate of inflation since 2000, according to federal statistics. Seven in 10 student respondents to a recent Student PIRG survey said they hadn’t purchased at least one assigned textbook due to high costs.

Of those students, eight in 10 said their grades would suffer without the necessary books.

Jimel Scott, a junior at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, said the rising cost of books has diluted some classmates’ higher education as they try to get by each course without books listed on professors’ syllabi.

“They just fake it and hope they make it,” Scott said. “But they know, and I know–you can’t do your best in class without the right resources. … It’s gotten to the point where you actually dread going into the bookstore every semester.”

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