There are books. Many books. Pricy books. That’s why it’s good that a number of Alabama universities are turning to a different method — on-campus book rentals — to help solve this growing dilemma.
The problem is severe. Today, it is not out of the ordinary to find a textbook costing more than $100. If a student takes four or more classes — considered a full load — books become a major expense.
Bookstores have tried alternative ways to get less expensive textbooks to students. The most widely used strategy is the buy-back plan in which bookstores buy used volumes from students and resell them at a price cheaper than what the book would cost new.
Because publishers and authors get nothing from these re-sales, editions are frequently changed so old books are considered obsolete and students have no choice to buy the new. In some cases, professors who realize the differences in the editions are minor have been known to tell students they can safely buy an older edition. But these cases are rare.
Under the book-rental plan, students rent the book for a term at a cost lower than what they would pay if they bought it new. They leave some form of security (a credit card number, for example) to guarantee that the book will be returned. At the end of the term, they bring the book back and rent another.
It’s a sound policy. A few universities in the state already are using it on a limited basis; Alabama, Auburn, Montevallo and UAB all have the service or will begin using it this fall. Unfortunately, the concept may not work for everyone.
The demographics of some schools — such as Jacksonville State — mean that the campus bookstore does a lot of its business with students who are on some form of financial aid, so rentals may not prove to be a good fit.
Plus, there is the limited availability of titles considered rentable, not to mention the expense of starting out a new system.
The buy-back system is the best method today to get cheaper textbooks into the hands of students. But it is good to know that college bookstores are seeking ways to reduce costs for students and parents who have to foot the large expense of a college education.