According to data collected by the Washington, D.C.-based Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), college textbook prices rose 82 percent between 2003 and 2013, triple the rate of inflation of the Consumer Price Index. Two separate Boston College initiatives are looking to make it easier and cheaper for students to buy course materials.
Starting this semester, the BC Bookstore, which is run by Follett Bookstore Management, is offering a price-matching program. Follett Corporation is a separate company that offers a range of educational products to K-12 schools and colleges and universities.
“We don’t want people to not require the highest quality of resources, but just to think a bit differently about what’s out there.”
-Librarian Margaret Cohen
The program allows students to present a price from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chegg, or a local competitor. It must be an in-store purchase, and the program excludes peer-to-peer exchanges.
There are some other caveats: The book must be in stock with both the Bookstore and the retailer advertising the lower price. Advertisements must be dated at most seven days prior to the transaction date, although prices can be matched for up to seven days after a book is purchased or rented.
“It’s something that we had tested out chain-wide,” Bob Stewart, director of BC Bookstores, said, referring to other bookstores run by Follett. “We found that it was very successful and well-received by students, and so then we rolled it out to the rest of the chain this semester.”
Stewart added that, in addition to saving money on the book itself, students who use price-matching are saving money on shipping fees, too.
“It’s new, so people are still learning, so I think that as each semester progresses we’ll educate people about it. … I think it’s going to grow,” he said.
Kat Murphy, MCAS ’18, is a biochemistry major who looked to Amazon instead of the Bookstore when buying her books last week, after seeing their prices on the Bookstore Web site.
“This past semester my books for both cell biology and molecular biology would have cost $170 if bought from the bookstore,” she said in an email. “Instead of $340, they came to a grand total of $63, thanks to Amazon textbook rentals.”
Another BC program, the Affordable Course Materials Initiative, seeks to help professors rethink the resources they use. The program’s philosophy is based in part on research by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which advocates the use of Open Educational Resources—using portions of multiple resources for free, rather than one entire resource, to avoid requiring students to get expensive books.
The initiative, spearheaded by librarians Margaret Cohen and Jane Morris, was launched last spring and continues again this year. Faculty members apply for a competitive $2,000 grant to help them revamp the books they are using, either by putting together a new combination of resources or creating their own content. BC Libraries and the Center for Teaching Excellence offer assistance with the process.
Revamping course materials involves putting together an array of sources: For example, a professor could use excerpts from multiple books on the library’s course reserve, self-created material, and articles in subscription databases. Copyright law does not allow entire books to be scanned and posted online, so the initiative’s support system seeks to help professors figure out what they can legally do.
One of the concerns prompting the Affordable Course Materials Initiative is financial aid. According to an email from Director of Financial Aid Mary McGranahan, aid maxes out at $625 each semester for textbooks, as mandated by federal law. McGranahan said that BC’s financial aid counselors do not receive many requests for additional assistance, although she thinks some students do exceed the allowance.
“We certainly would like to hear from any students struggling financially, whether it’s because of book costs or other issues, and we will do our best to help,” she added.
Cohen, one of the initiative’s leaders, said that surveys of students in last spring’s revamped courses showed strong support for the program. This spring, the initiative is looking at economics and biology courses as two target areas, as those programs tend to require the most expensive textbooks.
“We don’t want people to not require the highest quality of resources, but just to think a bit differently about what’s out there,” Cohen said.
Featured Image by Bennet Johnson / Heights Editor