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EDITORIAL: Making college affordable means minimizing textbook costs, too

Both individual professors and the University as a whole should work to find affordable materials for classes

Textbook prices are soaring while students are already drowning in debt, but there are a number of ways colleges can help ease the burden. – Photo by

The beginning of the semester at Rutgers, or any school for that matter, is hectic, jam-packed with must-get-dones and generally the busiest time of the semester right after finals season.

Students scramble to pay their tuition bills, add and drop courses in a desperate attempt to create a decent schedule packed with the right classes and, of course, the right professors. At the end of this first week of madness, you might expect a reprieve, but you are instead handed another bill: a textbook bill.

Students, who have already paid for housing, meal plans, parking, tuition, extra-special campus fees and more, must now dish out another couple hundred bucks for books that, after a semester, end up buried in a bookshelf or returned to the seller.

“Over the course of a year, the average college student spends more than $1,200 on books and materials,” according to CBS news. Additionally, “In 2006, the Advisory Committee for Student Financial Assistance reported that textbook prices had risen 186 percent in the previous eight years.” As with college tuition, there is very little evidence that rising prices actually correlate with rising quality.

Textbook prices at Rutgers, and most all universities, are too expensive, causing some students to shell out more money than they can afford, turn to illegal websites or skip the textbook altogether. Both professors at Rutgers and Rutgers as an institution must take certain measures to drastically reduce textbook prices for students instead of piling on the costs. 

Any weathered Rutgers student knows the burning question at the beginning of each semester: Do I need to buy this expensive brick of a textbook or can I manage without it? There is no simple answer, and by the time you know for sure, it is already mid-semester and too late to buy the much needed textbook or return the useless one.

Unless of course, you are required to acquire the access code — a string of numbers and letters that unlocks the graded homework for the course. Without this code, no student can pass their professor’s class. Perhaps we are being too harsh, but if the material, homework, practice and exam can all be sold by Pearson Education, is there need for a professor at all? 

If a student has, reluctantly, decided to spend money on a textbook, another question must still be asked: Which edition of the textbook do I really need? Professors can request that you purchase the latest edition of whatever book they choose, with the only difference between editions being the numbers used in practice problems. 

That said, “Vadim Levin, OAT awardee and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in many fields, textbooks are not very helpful because they do not contain new developments for their respective fields,” The Daily Targum reported.

The problem is some course material stays the same through the decades and does not require a new textbook, while other disciplines change so quickly that a textbook is out of date within a few years, rendering it worthless.

What is most infuriating is being asked to buy the professor’s own textbook. Some professors have good reasons for asking you to read their written work, but not all. Some professors shamelessly promote their own textbook that can cost upwards of $90.

You would think that paying tuition to take their course would grant you access to their knowledge and expertise, but like a poorly designed video game, in-game purchases may be necessary. 

For students who can afford monstrous textbook prices, the extra bill is more of a nuisance, but for students who already face financial challenges, the extra cost is a heavier burden. Rutgers, and the state of New Jersey as a whole, are making a push to lower tuition costs for those who cannot afford it but allows professors to add hundreds of dollars worth of expenses in textbooks.

Rutgers has a few options to help students including limiting professor’s ability to demand just about any textbook of their students or negotiating with publishers on students’ behalf.

Currently, Rutgers is enrolled in the Open and Affordable Textbook program, or OAT, which “awards research funds to Rutgers faculty who replace traditional textbooks with free or low-cost learning materials for their courses,” and has already saved Rutgers students about $5.7 million between 2016 and 2020, alone, the Targum reported.

While increasing the size of any bureaucracy should make you warry, perhaps Rutgers could set a limit on textbook costs per course, with exceptions on a case-by-case basis if truly necessary.

Students can continue to do what they have been doing — trying their hardest to avoid unnecessary textbook costs while also reaching out to professors to ask for different, cheaper alternatives to the textbooks listed on the syllabus. Moreover, students who are closer to graduation can donate their books or sell them at a reasonable price to those still making their way through coursework.

But at the end of the day, professors and the Rutgers administration must work together to make textbook prices accessible and cheap for students already paying an arm and a leg to be here.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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