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Pricey textbooks teach ingenuity

Posted: September 14, 2009 9:38 p.m.
Updated: September 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A full-time student at College of the Canyons, Kate Lucero is one of the many students struggling to pay for textbooks as a result of skyrocketing prices.

 
When College of the Canyons student Kate Lucero registered to take a one-unit sociology class on criminal profiling in the spring 2009 semester, she knew she would have to shell out some cash for the course's mandatory textbook.

What she didn't see coming was the high cost of the flimsy paperback book required for the two-day course: about $100 - quadruple the tuition for the course.

"(The cost) takes away from a lot of things," Lucero said, lamenting the costly books. "If the prices would go down, I'd be able to save a lot more."

At College of the Canyons, some students and administrators have used a bit of creativity to make that happen, with inexpensive alternatives to the official book store, such as discount shops, Web sites and book-rental programs.

High textbook prices have long been a necessary evil for students.

Nationwide, the high costs have moved some student groups to political action. The cost for books alone can reach higher than $900 a year for full-time students, according to the Campaign to Reduce College Textbook Costs.

The campaign, formed by fed-up student associations from California and across the nation, says the textbook market is broken with publishers releasing pricey new editions almost annually. It advocates bringing down the books' costs and exploring alternatives to traditional texts.

COC Vice President of Student Services Michael Wilding agrees that textbook prices can be a burden on cash-strapped students.

"They are outrageously high," he said. "A lot of students have chosen to buy their books elsewhere."

He said finances prove to be the most common barrier to education for students.

"Students have to be intelligent consumers," he said. "I think if students are vigilant and do the work and the research, they can get their books cheaper."

Students across the country should work to offset the costs of their books as much as possible, said Charles Schmidt, spokesman for the Ohio-based National Association of College Stores.

Schmidt, whose trade organization represents the $10 billion collegiate retailing industry, said campus bookstores can guarantee a measure of quality and convenience that Web sites typically do not.

"It's a right of passage. Just like students complain about food the in the cafeteria; it's not mom's," he said. "These are tools that are helping you do better in class so you will get a better average and get hired and get a better salary than others. Down the road it's going to pay off."

Locally, two resources have sprung up and thrown their hats into the textbook market.

The Santa Clarita Valley Book Exchange, located in Granary Square, and COCUnderground.com are both relying on economically savvy students to discover that they are a better source for used texts.

SCV Book Exchange Manager Beth Boskovich said she has seen about 800 students, most from COC, come to the store looking for a better deal.

"Everybody is really excited that we're here because now saving 10 bucks here and 15 bucks there is a big deal with the economy the way it is," she said.

Boskovich claims that students can find textbooks for up to 15 percent cheaper than the COC Bookstore, which is run by Barnes and Noble College Booksellers.

Officials with the Barnes and Noble organization did not return calls for comment.

The response, said Boskovich, has been positive.

"I've heard, ‘I'm so glad you guys are here,'" she said.

Similarly, former COC student Danny O'Kelley founded COCUnderground.com in an effort to give COC students a place where they can cut out the middle man.

COC Underground operates in a manner similar to Craigslist, using a classified-type system that allows students to post ads selling their used books to students in need.

After having a tough time reselling a few old texts, O'Kelley ended up selling his books on eBay.

"(I thought), ‘Wouldn't it make more sense if I could sell it directly to the students?'" he said.

The site boasts more than 100 registered users, said O'Kelley.

COC accounting student Ralph Monsod heard of the Web site through his sister. He said the bookstore would be a last resort.
"If I can get the same book for cheaper, why not?" he said.

COC officials have come up with their own solution: a new textbook rental program called TRiP will allow students the option of paying a fraction of the cost.

TRiP loans texts on a semester-long basis to students for 75 percent off the cover price.

Wilding hopes the program will take off, but warns that it is still in its infancy and faces several obstacles.

The books must be adopted by the faculty teaching popular classes with multiple sections and an agreement must be secured with the publisher that a new edition will not be issued for the next few semesters.

"We're hoping to add more and more classes and we're hoping that the faculty will become more aware of the program," Wilding said.

Still, many students are having a tough enough time.

Such is the case with Lucero, who works three jobs to help fund her college career.

After the 22-year-old balked at the price tag of her two-day course book, she managed to convince school officials to make the book optional instead of mandatory.

But Lucero, who hopes to someday gain her doctorate in psychology, said she still feels discouraged when faced with her future's pricey bill.

"I don't even have student loans yet, but the thought of student loans drives me crazy," she said. "I probably won't do as much schooling as I would want to because of the cost. It's not realistic for me. I don't have a lot of people helping me pay for it."

She said: "I mean, I get so scared."

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