Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Craig Coleman
MONMOUTH — Western Oregon University freshman and theater major Andrew Frederick said he felt “lucky” when it came time to buy textbooks in September.
For 10 titles containing Shakespeare and classical American plays, Frederick spent perhaps $130. That won’t last, he noted. Next year, he’ll have to take an earth sciences class that requires a $150 book.
“It doesn’t make me excited,” he said.
Textbooks aren’t the most expensive part of a college education, but the price tag for some materials — especially those needed for one term — are cringe inducing.
A new introductory-level Spanish book at Western Oregon University Bookstoretotals $174.50. For natural science majors, it’s $299 for a new biology textbook, bundled with a lab manual and software.
But there may be relief at the register next year, thanks to a forthcoming textbook rental program at Western.
WOU was one of 12 schools across the country to receive funds through the U.S. Department of Education — approximately $1 million — to develop a rental program that allows students to obtain a book for a fraction of what it might cost to own it.
The university is also providing an additional $102,500 toward the effort.
“It’s really fantastic,” said Mark Lane, manager of the WOU Bookstore, noting school officials, faculty and students will establish guidelines and price points for the rental system in the next few weeks.
A trial version will start in the winter and spring. The premise would give customers the option to buy the book outright or pay a smaller fee, and return the item when the term ends.
“We’ll do it for two to four courses and see how it runs on a small scale,” Lane said. “It’s the second year when things will pick up; we’ll plow the money into the program with as many books as possible.”
A 2005 study from the federal Government Office of Accountability stated that college textbook prices had increased by 186 percent between 1986 and 2004, and that the price rose at twice the national inflation rate.
Factors include connecting the books with websitesand bundled software supplements, according to GOA. Meanwhile, yearly revisions mean fewer used books.
Publishers interviewed for the report said the prices and offerings are a reflection of what college instructors seek in their classrooms.
Resident undergraduate students, paying about $6,800 in tuition and fees, spend an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to WOU’s financial aid office.
To save money on books, students share, buy them used from peers who took the same class previously, or hunt for copies online, said Kaci Sevano, a senior communications major.
“There are students who have to make choices on which books they can buy and which they can’t,” said Dave McDonald, WOU associate provost.
Some Oregon universities run limited textbook rentals. WOU’s federal funding will allow it to create a broader program, Lane said.
“We’re not looking to limit the scope,” he said. “We’re looking to provide rental coverage for as many courses as possible, up to 100 percent.”
Western’s bookstore has made inroads to reducing the cost of textbooks. It rolled out an eBook program — downloadable texts — on some titles this fall, offering savings of up to 50 percent. It’s also hiked its used textbook inventory by 30 percent and increased book buy-back amounts.
Sevano graduates next fall and said it “kind of sucks” that she’ll miss out on the rental program.
“But I think it’s good WOU is doing it for future students,” she added.