Boston University Student on Textbooks: ‘It’s Ridiculous’

As leaves begin to fall, so do college students’ bank accounts. After tuition and room and board are paid, there’s still the high price of course materials to worry about—and they’re getting higher all the time.

One Boston University student said he spent $750 on course materials this year. For that price, you could stay at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Boston three nights. Or see “Guardians of the Galaxy” about 70 times.

Photo Courtesy of Kayla Schorr

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of course materials has risen a whopping 812 percent since 1978. The same data shows that “compared to the 250 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the last 34 years, college textbooks have risen more than three times the amount of the average increase for all goods and services.”

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Students have taken to the Twittersphere to lament the sad reality of book prices:

Simply put, textbooks are very expensive. But are there alternatives?

Some students told Boston.com that they turned to Amazon, Ebay, or Facebook groups where other students sell their textbooks. Sometimes, this leads to semi-cheaper books. But many students opt for convenience over price and patronize their campus’ Barnes & Noble College, the chosen bookstore of most Boston-area colleges, such as Boston University, Northeastern University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Wellesley College.

Additionally, textbooks are often updated and some professors require that students have the latest editions.

Rich Hershman, vice president of government relations at the National Association of College Stores, told Vox his group surveyed students at 20 campuses and found that the average student spends $638 per year on course materials.

How some Boston University students are faring this September:

Ryan Lader

Sophomore, Engineering

$750.00

“[I] spent too f---ing much. It’s ridiculous.”

Whitney Catalano

Senior, Dietetics

$400

“Some years were more. Freshman year, I bought them from Barnes & Noble, then I stopped. I didn’t believe in giving them my money.”

Nick Desantis

Sophomore, Management

$450

“They were much less than last year. I bought some online. My books were more expensive than my other friends’, lots of case studies.”

Liz Kaplun

Sophomore, Biology

$500

“Last year they were a bit less—found one or two on Amazon. This year, I tried Amazon and Ebay and I couldn’t find anything.”

How a few Ivy Leaguers across the River Charles stack up:

Sid Yarlagadda

Freshman, Human and Evolutionary Biology

$200

“Harvard opens up a lot of options to buy stuff online.”

Lauren Chaleff

Senior, Integrative Biology

$300

“I spend more as a science major. When I take classes in the humanities, I spend less.”

Charlene Hwans

Freshman, Biomedical Engineering

$300

“I spent around $300 total—for one book. I bought it used for $260, but with taxes...There’s a Facebook group and you can buy through other students for a lot cheaper, but you worry about getting the right edition.”

We realize that this is not enough data to come to any conclusions about BU versus Harvard textbook prices, especially since they both use Barnes & Noble. But it’s worth noting that Harvard’s bookstore, The Coop, gives students and members of The Coop a 10 percent discount, Jerry Murphy, The Coop’s president, said.

One Wellesley professor had an even cheaper solution. According to Claire Cerda, a senior sociology and anthropology major, one of her professors had her class buy just one main textbook. The professor scanned the pages of other course books and uploaded them online for students to access for free. Cerda’s total damage this year? $20.

The authors are both Boston University graduate students. As journalism students in the College of Communication, we tend to not spend very much. This year, we spent roughly $100 on course materials. Sorry, all you science majors. You’ll make more in the long run.

How much did you spend on textbooks this year? Tweet us @Jhofherr29and @meganturchi.