More colleges offering textbook rentals – Houston Chronicle

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How to save at college – by the book

Complaints about rising tuition haven’t done much good, but college students may have more success with high-priced textbooks.

Students at a growing number of colleges will be able to rent books this fall for less than half the price of a new book.

“I’ll try anything to save money,” said Ronald Pruitt. who was shocked by textbook prices when he enrolled at Houston Community College this summer, 25 years after he last attended college.

Textbooks can cost more than tuition and fees at a community college, and HCC Vice Chancellor for Instruction Charles Cook said as many as 30 percent of HCC students don’t buy books because they can’t afford them.

“That’s a horrific obstacle to student success,” he said.

Not every book will be available for rent, and students forgo the possibility of selling a book back for extra cash. But the wider availability of textbook rentals will help students control their costs, as will the small-but-growing market for digital textbooks.

New federal regulations that took effect July 1 require publishers to give faculty members more information about textbooks, including prices, and colleges to provide lists of required books during registration, giving students time to shop around for the best deal.

Web changed things

Nicole Allen, director of the textbook campaign at the Student Public Interest Research Groups, said there’s no way to measure the full impact of the changes.

“It’s safe to say a lot of students are going to be able to save hundreds of dollars,” she said, with larger savings in future years.

Campus bookstores lost their monopoly years ago as students began searching online for a better deal.

That’s likely to accelerate now that colleges must make textbook selections available sooner.

Textbook rentals are an attempt to compete.

“We want to get students to our websites, into our stores rather than the competition’s,” said Charles Schmidt. a spokesman for the National Association of College Stores. which represents more than 3,000 college stores.

About half of the member stores will offer textbook rentals this fall, up from fewer than 300 last year.

The stores don’t make much money on textbooks, Schmidt said.

“We want you to buy hoodies and shot glasses and sweatshirts and gifts for your girlfriend,” he said.

Many campus bookstores are no longer run by the school but by outside firms.

All will offer textbook rentals this fall, spokeswoman Karen DiScala said.

Professors want quality

But Allen predicted textbook rentals will be a short-term solution rather than the final answer.

Digital textbooks, and especially open-source textbooks, may be longer-term solutions, she said. Open-source textbooks can be downloaded at no charge.

Jade Roth. vice president of books and digital strategy at Barnes Noble’s college division, will be at HCC next month to talk to faculty about different options.

Faculty members are becoming more price-conscious, she said.

“But first, they want to make sure they get the best material,” she said.

Students complain when a textbook is too expensive, but faculty members still are most concerned about quality.

“Part of the problem is, there’s no real incentive for faculty to choose lower-cost textbooks,” said Scott Imberman. an economist at the University of Houston. “Most professors would pick the textbook they think is the highest quality.”

The biggest problem is the frequent release of new editions, he said.

That limits the resale market — students can’t sell a book if a newer edition will be used the following year – and often, Imberman said, the new edition doesn’t change much.

“In some fields, you do have new things coming about all the time,” he said. “In other fields, things develop much more slowly.”

But students say some professors are willing to compromise.

Fiona Guan. a pharmacy student at HCC, is using an older version of her chemistry textbook.

The class is using the newest edition, which she said sold for more than $100 at the bookstore.

With her professor’s permission, Guan bought an earlier edition online.

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