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Textbooks: a necessary expense?

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Sydney Whitfield didn’t purchase all her required textbooks this semester.

She enrolled late in her Environmental Science course and wasn’t able to purchase the $90 book ahead of time. Her professor has yet to assign work from the book.

“There are other ways to get around just buying,” said Whitfield, a freshman who is working on her prerequisites. If her professor does assign the textbook, Whitfield will decide whether she wants to purchase individual chapters online or buy the book from the USF St. Petersburg Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Whitfield isn’t alone, according to a Florida PIRG Education Fund study. The study claimed that 65 percent of college students choose not to purchase textbooks due to cost.

But Jay Hartfield, General Manager of the USFSP Barnes & Noble, disputes this number.

“That is not the case whatsoever,” he said.

Because of Barnes & Noble’s dynamic pricing, selling used and rental books, Hartfield thinks textbooks sales are “on the rise” at the store.

According to the study, a “fundamental flaw in the publishing industry” causes the high textbook prices. When a professor assigns a book, students are expected to purchase it. The student is a “captive market,” the study said, and the publishing industry can therefore cause prices to rise without punishment.

The study suggests cost-reducing options such as e-books and used textbooks as temporary solutions.

But Hartfield said e-book sales have not increased like people would imagine. “Students still want the physical book,” he added.

But some students aren’t allowed to purchase e-books. Nancy Carr, an English education graduate student, purchases novels for her English courses. Because many of her professors believe electronic devices distract other students, instructors require her to purchase a physical copy.

Used and rental options are more popular.

USFSP student Morgan Demuth rents all her books from websites like Chegg.com and CollegeBook.com because she thinks renting from online sources is cheaper than purchasing from the bookstore.

Hartfield said he hears stories from students who are unsatisfied after purchasing their books at other online sources, and then come to Barnes & Noble to buy the books again.

“People who choose to go to other sources probably don’t get the right textbooks or formats,” he said.

Hartfield explained students should purchase textbooks from Barnes & Noble because, by contract, a portion of the money students spend goes back to the university. These funds are used for scholarships and university initiatives. Most students don’t realize the money they spend at the bookstore goes back to the university, Hartfield said.

While the contract between Barnes & Noble does not say specifically that a portion of textbook expenditures go back to the school, it says the bookstore donates $3,000 a year for scholarships. An additional $1,000 per year is given to the school as a “performance and payment bond,” also to be used for scholarships.

Harfield feels the price of textbooks hasn’t affected student trends in purchasing.

“Much like everything, yes, there’s been a rise in textbook prices, but what hasn’t there been?” Hartfield said. “We’ve implemented dynamic pricing to cut that off.”

But the PIRG study views used, rental and e-book options as only temporary solutions to the problem. The research explores solutions, such as open-source textbooks and campus initiatives, like the ideas proposed by Student Government senators Justin Scott Linn and Andrew DeFraties.

Linn proposed creating a checkout system in the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library. SG would build a library of textbooks, starting first with the common books used in prerequisite courses. He also had plans to look into open-source textbook options.

After the bill passed through the general assembly, it was sent to Legislative Affairs, where it was held to complete further research on the idea. Last week, backlash from senators caused DeFraties to rework the bill and edit it before resubmitting.

“It is unfortunate that political pressure prevents great ideas from coming to fruition,” DeFraties said, “But persistence will always outlast resistance.”

The study encourages the use of open-source textbooks, which are accessible to anyone, free of charge, on the Internet.

Carol Hixson, dean of the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, said the library has no control over what textbooks professors select for their classes. If they did select an open-source textbook, the online textbook would be free to students.

Hixson is waiting for SG to get back in touch with her about the library textbook reserve program. After speaking with The Crow’s Nest, she said the library is planning a student forum regarding textbooks.

“We hope that SG will agree to co-sponsor it with us,” she said.

 Tell us how you textbook: Do you buy textbooks from Barnes & Noble on campus? If not, where do you get them? Do you find all your textbooks to be necessary? Ever made a passing grade without reading a single page? Leave a comment, email usfcrowsnest@gmail.com or reply to us on Twitter @usfcrowsnest.

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