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The rising cost of college textbooks

November 12, 2006

Re "When you can't afford to go buy the book," Nov. 7

As a community college history instructor, I cut costs by using paperback trade books wherever possible. By so doing, I save my students $50 or more per textbook. I am concerned that students fail to see their education as an investment in themselves and their future so that entertainment, cellphones and iPods take precedent over textbooks. I am even more concerned that they are losing a culture of literacy as evidenced by their disinterest in building a personal library.


History instructor

Santa Ana College


I began teaching business management in 1996 as an adjunct professor. At that time, the full-time professor (who selected our text) believed in minimizing costs by selecting a softcover text published by Barrons. It cost our students $13.95. I continued to use that text for years. The old professor retired and a new full-time replacement was hired. She picked a glitzy, colorful new text that came with a CD. Students paid more than $90 for this selection.

To this day, I'm convinced my students were just as well-educated when the low-cost alternative was used. In the final semester I taught that class, I heard new student gripes that the publisher had issued an updated edition, and the bookstore would no longer purchase or resell the used one. That means past students could not resell their old text and new students could not buy a secondhand one. If college professors prioritize low costs rather than the newest full-color text, student expenses can be drastically reduced.


Associate professor

of business

College of the Canyons

Santa Clarita


The Times neglected to mention a 2004 bill by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) to set up a system allowing students to rent textbooks at significantly lower prices. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As a teacher at Pasadena City College, I see the results of Schwarzenegger's decision to protect corporate profit over student needs every day. Every time a student decides to drop out of school because they cannot afford the books, I want to tell them they can thank Schwarzenegger for that nice bit of educational support.




College textbooks costing $150 may not be exceptional. In the 1960s, my pricier college books cost $25 to $30; but the cost of living in the intervening years has increased at least fivefold. These textbooks probably would cost a comparable $125 to $150 in today's dollars.

In fact, book costs may be reasonable compared to other college costs. Forty years ago, a semester unit at USC cost $50, about the cost of two books. Today, a unit at USC costs $1,121, definitely exceeding the cost of any two books now.



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