A Civic Project story
By Collin G. Katarski
Burke, 20, a junior safety-science major, now patronizes the campus bookstore only if he can’t find what’s he’s looking for elsewhere. Brick-and-mortar bookstore prices are too steep, he said. So he shops at online retailer Amazon.com and saves a couple hundred dollars each semester.
“I don’t buy books unless they’re cheap,” Burke said during an April 22 interview at his University Square apartment. “It’s hard enough to pay for college, let alone having to take out extra loans for books.”
Some of his professors understand and have advised him and other undergraduates not to buy certain high-priced textbooks, Burke said. But some other professors have required students to buy textbooks that they rarely if ever used.
“I bought a $240 physics book that I never opened,” Burke said.
BURKE IS among 85 percent of IUP undergraduates who say they have “declined to buy a required textbook from the Co-op Store because of the price.” The finding was one result of an April 16-23 email survey of a random sample of 1,500 students.
Other findings included large majorities of survey respondents who also reported that they have bought textbooks online, where they say they find the lowest prices. (See survey data in sidebar, below.)
Still, some students continue to patronize the campus bookstore.
Gabrielle A. Bradshaw, 21, of Saegertown, Pa., a junior IUP English major, said she spends about $200 a semester on textbooks, most of which she buys from the Co-Op Store.
“I know some people who cannot afford books for their classes and therefore can’t fulfill course requirements effectively,” Bradshaw said during a March 27 interview at Stapleton Library.
Bradshaw said some professors have tried to reduce the financial burdens of buying textbooks.
“I’ve had professors who say we can buy the older versions of required materials because they are cheaper,” Bradshaw said.
PRICES FOR textbooks are rising faster than prices overall.
Undergraduates spend an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Group, a Chicago-based nonprofit that encourages student involvement on campus.
From 2002-2012, textbook prices rose 82 percent, three times the overall rate of inflation, the study reported. New textbook editions are released every three to four years and typically cost 12 percent more than the previous editions.
IUP English professor Jason D. Long, Ph.D., 39, said he tries to keep textbook prices low for his undergraduate students.
“As a writer, I think it’s important to support the authors whose works we read and enjoy,” Long said during a March 13 interview at The Commonplace Coffeehouse and Roastery. “But as a teacher, I want my students to be able to have an affordable education.”
Long said he chooses textbooks by asking students what they enjoy. He also chooses textbooks based on whether he believes the text will be important to his students.
“As a teacher, I’m very conscious of what students are paying for textbooks,” Long said. “I know it’s expensive, and I try to make my textbooks affordable for my students.”
TIMOTHY L. Sharbaugh, the IUP Co-op Store director, said Amazon is the store’s biggest competitor. His store has added services aimed at holding on to its campus market, including textbook rentals, pricing software and e-books.
“Competition helps the students so they can get a good education and try not to spend as much money,” Sharbaugh said.
A college store makes less than 4 cents on a dollar for every new book sold, according to the National Association of College Stores, a 90-year-old, non-profit trade association based in Oberlin, Ohio.
The pressure to boost textbook prices comes from publishers and their shareholders, Sharbaugh said.
“The publishers have to make their money somewhere,” Sharbaugh said. “They’re doing it by charging more for their books. In essence, they charge us more. The retail price goes up.”
BURKE said the pricing pressure is driving him away from the Co-Op Store and straight to the web.
“I’d much rather support someone that’s going to be fair with the prices and not try to gyp you,” Burke said.
Collin Katarski, a sophomore majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh.
Sidebar: Price comparison: Co-Op Store v. Amazon.com
The following chart shows the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Co-op Store used-book price and Amazon.com used-book price.
The chart lists six books, one from each of IUP’s six academic colleges. For each book, editions are identical. Prices are listed as of April 24. Footnotes below provide links to more detailed information about listed items.
IUP Price at Price at IUP Co-op Store
Course Amazon Co-op Store v. Amazon (% +/-)
CHEM-105 $6.32 $89 +1,308 %
FCSE-101 $74.69 $100.50 +35
FIN-360 $150 $206 +37
HRIM-265 $33.98 $92 +171
PHIL-100 $57.93 $63.50 +10
THTR-101 $39.93 $88 +120
Sources: IUP Co-Op Bookstore; Amazon.com
CHEM-105: Criminalistics: Forensic Science, Crime And Terrorism by James E. Girard
FCSE-101: Resource Management for Individuals and Families (5th Edition) by Elizabeth B. Goldsmith
FIN-360:Principles of Risk Management and Insurance (12th Edition) (Pearson Series in Finance) by George E. Rejda and Michael McNamara
HRIM-265:Principles of Food, Beverage, and Labor Cost Controls by Paul R. Dittmer and J. Desmond Keefe
PHIL-100:The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims by Lewis Vaughn
THTR-101: The Creative Spirit: An Introduction to Theatre by Stephanie Arnold
Sidebar: Qualtrics survey statistics
On April 16, a six-question survey of student textbook-buying habits was emailed to 1,500 Indiana University of Pennsylvania undergraduates. The survey was administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab using Qualtrics, an online-survey program. The survey data have a 2.4 percent margin of error.
A total of 124 students responded to the survey by April 23, a response rate of 8 percent. Findings include:
- 104 participants (85 percent) said they have declined to buy a book from the IUP Co-op Store because of the price
- 112 participants (90 percent) said they have bought a textbook from an online retailer
- 102 participants (82 percent) said they found the lowest textbook prices from online retailers
Sidebar: Qualtrics survey questionnaire
Following is the text of a six-question survey about student textbook-buying habits that was emailed April 16 to a random sample of 1,500 Indiana University of Pennsylvania undergraduates. The survey ended April 23.
The questionnaire follows:
My name is Collin Katarski and I am a IUP journalism major conducting this survey for a story I am writing for my News Reporting class, about the cost of textbooks and where students prefer to purchase their textbooks. The class is taught by IUP journalism professor David Loomis, Ph.D. [email@example.com].
This survey is being conducted for the story and will be anonymous. Aggregated responses may be published in the award-winning online newspaper The HawkEye LINK: https://thehawkeyeonlinenews.wordpress.com/ , published by Dr. Loomis LINK: http://www.iup.edu/page.aspx?id=37901 in the IUP journalism department LINK: http://www.iup.edu/journalism/default.aspx . If you would like to be interviewed about this issue, you may provide your contact information at the conclusion of this questionnaire.
Some background: According to a 2013-2014 study by the College Board, the average student spends $1,200 per year on textbooks and supplies – 14 percent of annual tuition at a four-year public university. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer group, reported in January 2014 that textbook prices had risen by 82 percent over the preceding decade – a rate of increase that is triple the rate of inflation during that period.
- What academic year are you in?
E.) Don’t know
- In which IUP college is your academic major?
A.) Eberly College of Business and Information Technology
B.) College of Education and Educational Technology
C.) College of Fine Arts
D.) College of Health and Human Services
E.) College of Humanities and Social Sciences
F.) College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
G.) Don’t know
- Have you ever declined to buy a required textbook from the Co-op Store because of the price?
C.) Don’t recall
- Have you ever bought a textbook for a course at IUP from an online textbook retailer such as Amazon.com, Chegg.com, Half.com, etc. during your college career?
C.) Don’t know
- For IUP courses, where do you typically find the lowest textbook prices?
A.) IUP Co-op Store
B.) Online reatailers (Amazon, Ebay, Chegg, etc.)
C.) Buying directly from other students
D.) Other ____________________________
- If you would be willing to be contacted for an interview by a reporter, please provide your email address, mobile phone number or other preferred contact information:
Sidebar: For more information
For more information, contact the following sources:
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Co-op Store
Timothy L. Sharbaugh,
Co-op Store Director
319 Pratt Drive
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Cooperative Association
National Association of College Stores
500 E. Lorain St.
Oberlin, Ohio 44074
Phone: (800) 622-7498 Web: http://www.nacs.org/
Sidebar: To get involved
To get involved in issues related to textbook prices, contact the following source:
Student Public Interest Research Groups
328 S. Jefferson St.
Chicago, Ill. 60661
Pennsylvania Student Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG)
1420 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102
Student Government Association