Finding a way to pay

By Dan Petrella

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about the increasing cost of textbooks. Part one ran Tuesday and focused on the economics of making and packaging textbooks. Part three will run on Thursday and will focus on what is being done by students and legislators to combat rising textbook prices.

Between student loans taken out in her name and a work-study job, Jennifer Hanson has to find a way to pay for her own college education, including close to $500 a semester for textbooks.

“A lot of people just kind of take it for granted,” said Hanson, sophomore in FAA. “Their parents just say, ‘OK, here’s $300, go buy your books.'”

With the price of textbooks skyrocketing 186 percent between 1986 and 2004, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an increasing number of students are having difficulty paying for books they need for their classes.

The average student spends about $900 per school year on textbooks, according to a report issued by the State Public Interest Research Groups in February 2005. During the course of four years, textbooks add about $3,600 to students’ college expenses.

Hanson said she spent about $450 on books this semester, which is a little lower than average. As an industrial design student, she also has to pay for her own art supplies and additional fees for classes.

“People think, being an art student, you kind of get out of (paying a lot for books), but you still have to spend a lot of money,” she said.

Starting this summer she will be working as a security guard at the Krannert Art Museum. Hanson had been working as a webmaster for the College of Education, but the Financial Aid Office ran out of money to fund the work-study job and her employer had to let her go.

She has tried a number of different methods to save money on books.

“I waste so much time looking online to try to find a better price,” she said.

Hanson said she has also shared textbooks with friends in the same classes in order to save money. This can be risky, she said, because she once loaned a book to a friend and got it back completely destroyed.

Lauren Jensen, graduate student who also pays for her own education, has had similar experiences. She said she often shares books with friends, especially supplemental books that are recommended rather than required by professors.

This semester Jensen said she spent about $600 on her books. On average she said she spends about $450 to $500 per semester.

A scholarship from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science helps Jensen pay for her schooling. To earn additional money, she works at the Government Documents Library.

“If you look at how much journals cost and everything like that I guess you can understand why textbooks cost so much, but it’s still a huge expense for students,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of like one of those unseen costs.”

In order to keep her textbook expenses low, Jensen tries to buy as many used books as possible. She said she has to make sure to get to the bookstores early so that there will be used books left.

Many students have started using Web sites like half.com to try to purchase their books at lower prices. Jensen said that she has used the site on occasion when the bookstores are out of a particular book but with shipping and handling charges, the books tend to be pretty much the same price.

Students also use the Web site www.illinibookexchange.com to sell books to each other without going through the buy back process at one of the campus bookstores. Some students have even begun setting up groups on the social networking Web site Facebook to buy and sell textbooks from one another.

Willard Bredfield, director of the Illini Union Bookstore, said despite a common misconception among students that bookstores select books and set prices, faculty choose textbooks and the prices the bookstore charges are based on the list prices provided by publishers.

Both Hanson and Jensen said they have had classes in which the textbooks came bundled with supplemental materials that were not required for the class.

Whether they are sharing books with classmates, buying books online and trying to get as many used books as possible, students must find a way to pay hundreds of dollars for the books they need for their classes.

“It’s really a thing of survival,” Hanson said. “It’s like, how can I get the most amount for my money?”