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The Rising Cost of College Textbooks

Ariele Vaccaro

A study indicates textbook costs have risen 82% in the past decade and that some students are trying to go without certain course books.Students we asked at the UWM Union, estimate their book bills at between $300 and $600 per semester. The young people say they sometimes feel frustrated or ripped off by the cost.

While college students have long complained about the cost of books and how little they’re worth come selling time, prices have been rising, according to Sarah Dobjensky of WISPIRG – the Wisconsin Public Research Interest Group. "The average student is spending $1,200 per year on their textbooks. It's quickly becoming a really big out of pocket expense,” Dobjensky says.

WISPIRG surveyed students nationwide and 65 percent said they sometimes don't buy the books and instead rely on lecture notes and borrowing books from friends.

UWM Freshman Katie Schwanz says she only bought the books her professors required. "When they're, like, $200, and I don't have $200 for one textbook, and then I need five of them, and that's kind of $1,000 and I don't have $1,000." Schwanz says.

Schwanz says she also only bought the books she could find on Amazon, and then they came late, so she was behind on class readings. She says she uses leftover financial aid or money from her job to pay her book bills.

Junior Anthony Menzel says he sometimes asks for help. "If a book is too expensive and I completely need it, I tend to go and ask my parents for money if I can, which doesn't usually happen. If it’s required, I just fork it over no matter what. You just have to,” Menzel says.

Students who don't buy all the class materials, place themselves at a disadvantage, according to Jaejin Jang, a UWM engineering professor. "If they do not read the book, then they will understand less. They will get less from the course and they are paying a lot of money for the course." Jang says sometimes he can tell which students don’t have the right books. "When I assign homework, students solve the wrong problems." Jang says it often means the student has bought an older, less expensive version of a required textbook. He says he does what he can to accommodate them.

WISPIRG is working to make more textbooks accessible online, called open source books. Spokeswoman Sarah Dobjensky says nearly 2,500 professors across the country have expressed interest in using the free online textbooks.

But for most courses, students must continue adding the cost onto their education or finding creative ways to get the material they need.