Students, professors express thoughts on textbook prices

Bookshelves at the BYU store
Bookshelves at the BYU store. The Student First Program at BYU is committed to providing the lowest rental prices for textbooks. (Liesel Allen)

As the chapters of the first few weeks of the fall semester close, one burden is still weighing on students’ minds and backs: textbooks.

Mark Clegg, the director of retail services at the BYU Store, said the average student takes five courses a semester, with three of those courses requiring textbooks. The average number of textbooks per course is two.

“So, all in all, the average student is required to purchase right around six textbooks,” Clegg said.

Hannah Steed, a senior studying psychology at BYU, bought eight textbooks this semester. “I kind of enjoy textbooks,” Steed said, having purchased all the books required for her classes. 

Hannah Steed, a BYU student studying psychology, holds up two of the eight books she bought for this semester. She looks for the cheapest option for her textbooks. (Liesel Allen)

Connor Austin, a senior studying international relations, rented nine textbooks from the BYU Store.

“I’ve only used one so far and I expect that I will use about four of them,” Austin said.

Austin rents his books so he can return them at the end of the semester.

“I try and find ones that already have highlights, and then I can kind of figure out what I need to know,” Austin said.

Connor Austin, a student studying international relations, reads from a highlighted textbook for his class. He rents all of his textbooks from the BYU Store. (Liesel Allen)

Sarah Peterson, a junior studying public relations, said that in the past she’s always bought textbooks through BYU, but this semester, she chose Amazon over the bookstore. She said buying the textbooks she needed used from Amazon was cheaper.

Sarah Peterson, a junior who recently applied to the public relations program, shows off a Spanish textbook and a piano course book. She bought both of these books used off of Amazon. (Liesel Allen)

Alisa Morrell, a senior in neuroscience, said her relationship with textbooks is complicated.

“I have a polarized opinion on textbooks,” Morrell said, “I will not pay for textbooks.”

This semester, she only bought one textbook for her neuroscience program.

“I’m not that sad, because I only paid $7 for it,” Morrell said.

Alissa Morrell, a senior studying neuroscience, holds up the only textbook she bought this semester. She and her friends borrow and share most of the textbooks they need. (Liesel Allen)

In contrast, Sheamus Mahoney, a senior majoring in political science, bought all five of the textbooks he needs. He said his method for buying textbooks starts at the BYU Store but usually ends with him renting from Amazon. In response to being asked if he had used his textbooks so far, he said, “Not as much as I would have liked.”

Sheamus Mahoney, a senior studying political science, reads through his online textbook. Mahoney bought or rented all five of the books that he needed for his classes from Amazon. (Liesel Allen)

Professor Lane Fischer is one of the few teachers on campus who does not require his students to buy a textbook.

“I’ll get emails saying, ‘What textbook do I buy?’” Fischer said.

Fischer said that his students are always surprised and pleased when he says that all of the content and exercises for his classes are online.

In his research, Fischer has focused on studying the effects of open source resources on education. He has found that students are able to take more credits when their materials are open source because of the decrease in financial burden. Additionally, the quality of students’ academic experience usually increases.

In addition to open source materials, students said that many of their professors offer other options less traditional than assigning specific textbooks for courses. 

Annie Taylor, a senior studying cell biology and physiology, explained that her introductory level classes for chemistry and physics used OpenStax textbooks because the basic curriculum was all in the public domain. 

“I have a professor who technically assigned a textbook, but he doesn’t assign homework from the textbook so that we can use any edition of the textbook,” Nicole Peterson, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said.

Kate Knoll Andrews, a senior studying elementary education, shared how one of her classes uses an academic journal subscription instead of a textbook.

“I love it,” Andrews said. “It makes so much more sense, is full of relevant information and develops professional development skills you’ll actually use after you graduate.”

Other professors supply PDFs of the readings for the class. BYU student Mike Miller shared how this method in one of his classes has diversified the content and viewpoints from which the students learn.

On the other hand, there are professors who still require a physical textbook. Hannah Lee, a senior majoring in graphic design, shared how one of her teachers told their class that the textbook they needed was online for free but that they would still need a physical copy.

“They didn’t give a reason at all, just that we would lose points if we didn’t rent or buy it,” Lee said.

Despite mixed reactions to textbooks from the student population on campus, Clegg said the Student First Program at the BYU store is committed to providing the lowest rental price for course materials.

“We [are] hoping that guaranteed lowest price [will] win you at the end of the day, because we are standing behind that,” Clegg said.

Clegg said on average, a BYU student will only spend $184 on the materials they buy or rent from the campus bookstore. Several factors play into this, including working with faculty to make sure the bookstore is stocked with the materials teachers require, buying as many of their products used as possible and charging the same price for used and new rentals. 

“We have systems that scan prices every single night and make sure that our price is lower than any of our competitors,” Clegg said. “It literally auto sets the price in our system to be the lowest price.”

Regardless of how or where or if students buy the textbooks they need, Clegg said the BYU store is focused on saving students’ money and helping support their classroom success.

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