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More Than a Penny Saved

More Than a Penny Saved
August 14, 2006

Cost of a brand new introductory chemistry book at New Jersey’s Camden County College: $270.

Good will generated by the college's new plan aimed at lowering the price of textbooks: infinite.

On Thursday, the two-year college announced a multifaceted effort to dramatically reduce the cost of textbooks for students. The lynchpin of the plan asks that professors use the same books for at least six consecutive semesters. After the first term, students would be able to purchase used books at a savings of up to 70 percent off the cover price of new texts.

The college will also begin offering several books in e-book form, so that a student can purchase a password -- that can be used on only one computer -- to access his or her readings online. The more than 1,700 students who are scheduled take introductory psychology courses at the institution this fall can, if they choose, save up to 40 percent by using the e-book option.

Camden County administrators have also worked with campus bookstore officials to reduce the markup of the wholesale cost of all new textbooks from 25 to 20 percent, and have requested that professors order fewer bundled book packages, which often come with CDs and answer books that are seldom used in classes.

“We believe that we need to get a handle on the total cost of higher education,” said Melissa L. Hopp, vice president for administrative services at the college. She estimates that most students will be able to save about $100 each semester as a result of the new measures.

Hopp noted several studies that show textbook prices to be wildly increasing. The Government Accountability Office, for instance, recently reported that college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of annual inflation over the last two decades. The College Board has estimated that the cost of books and supplies for the 2005-6 academic year ranged from $801 to $904 depending on the type of institution a student attended.

Student reactions to the Camden County plan have been overwhelmingly positive, and professors, too, seem optimistic. “This is an awesome way to try to reduce the financial burden on students,” said Teresa A. Smith, chair of the chemistry department at the institution. “Prices have been escalating just way too much.”

Smith said that if professors feel that new materials must be offered before a book has been used for six semesters, they could easily do so by providing supplemental readings online. She also said that much of the material taught in introductory classes tends to stay the same year after year.  

Hopp said that no professor would be required to use texts that they feel are out of date. “We will not be impacting the quality of the teaching,” she said. “It’s education first.”

The administrator added that Barnes & Noble College Bookstores and the Follett Higher Education Group, which operate the bookstores on the college’s three campuses, have worked diligently to help the plans materialize. “They certainly understand our priorities,” she said. The college has already worked the cost-saving measures into their contracts with the companies.

Officials who work directly with college booksellers were also happy to learn about the developments. "This initiative is an excellent example of the collaborative effort necessary to address student concerns about the rising costs of course materials,” said Ed Schlichenmayer, executive vice president of the National Association of College Stores. “It is a positive step forward, and is especially meaningful because of the faculty commitment to adapt to this plan."

Cynthia D'Angelo, vice president of association services of the college stores group, said that she has not seen many similar efforts at other institutions. “In the past, college faculty have been resistant to limit their academic freedom by agreeing to adopt a textbook for several terms,” she said. “That action alone, however, will greatly help the availability of used books on any particular campus along with supporting the implementation of textbook rental programs.”

D’Angelo said that she expects more institutions to “seek creative ways to lower costs for their students as the cost of higher education continues to rise.”

“We definitely hope that it’s an idea that other colleges will want to copy,” said Hopp.

 

 

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