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Higher costs for higher learning

Textbooks costing three times course fee

Posted: January 21, 2009 9:15 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A stack of textbooks on display at COC campus bookstore.

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A college student's required textbooks can cost up to three times the amount of course fees, often limiting the types and number of courses students can take.

"It's ridiculous," said College of the Canyons student Sakura Carpenter.

In the spring semester, Carpenter expects to pay $280 in class fees and up to $798 for new textbooks.

Like many students, Carpenter attempts to buy used books when they are available, but instructors requiring the latest editions force students to purchase brand-new texts, she said.

Purchasing a used book can save a student $30 to $40 per book; this can save a full-time student $150 to $200 per semester.

Some new editions have simply revised or added a new chapter to the existing text, Carpenter said. Some students try to cut costs by photocopying changes, but many instructors insist students have the latest editions.

A traditional trick has been to sell books back to the college at the end of the semester to help offset the cost of purchasing new texts.

However, many students are turned away.

"Books can't be (sold back) because the instructors don't reuse the books," said COC student Toni Beets.

Beets spent $500 on books her first semester at COC; a year later the cost of her books jumped up to $650. The cost for a California resident to attend COC is $20 per unit, along with some mandatory fees including a health fee, student center fee and a student representative fee.

For Carpenter, who will be taking a precalculus class, the fees will total only $89. However, the precalculus textbook costs $188, bringing the total for one class to $277.

Book costs can affect the classes students choose. An act passed in 2007 was aimed at keeping textbook prices in check by informing buyers and professors of the costs of textbooks.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, supported the bill.

"Textbooks are such a major part of the cost of higher education that prices could put community college out of reach for many students."

Another attempt to control costs came in September 2008 as the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2261, which creates a pilot program to enable community college faculty statewide to take advantage of free online course materials.

"AB 2261 will give faculty more options to help ease the burden textbooks put upon our students," said the bill's author, Ira Ruskin, D-Los Altos.

"Textbooks are increasingly becoming cost-prohibitive for students. Meanwhile, much of the same course materials are in the public domain and could be obtained for free," Ruskin said.

Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, said laws are important, but colleges and professors can react without legislation.

"They have to have an approved text and the professor is (the) one who has the greatest latitude," Runner said. "A lot of times that comes down to the college and the professors who are requiring the newest books.

"And in many situations, how much difference is there between one trig class book from the previous one?" Runner said. "I think sometimes there's a lack of sensitivity by college administration and professors."

Signal staff writer Katie Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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