TALLAHASSEE — Florida universities are taking the first steps toward expanding the use of electronic textbooks and other material, hoping to bring significant savings to students who spend hundreds of dollars each semester on traditional textbooks.
The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, approved a 2018-19 budget request this week that includes a $656,000 program to encourage the greater use of so-called “eTexts” and other open educational resources in lieu of the standard textbooks.
It may take some time to replicate the experience of the University of Indiana, a leader in the use of eTexts, with IU reporting last spring that its students saved an estimated $3.5 million in the 2016-17 academic year by using eTexts in place of textbooks.
But Joseph Glover, provost at the University of Florida, who is part of a group coordinating innovation and online programs among the universities, said the expanded use of eTexts and other open-source material “is a great opportunity for really substantial savings for our students.”
For the second year in a row, college students spent less on textbooks and other course materials. The findings, from two new reports, link the spending drop to a rise in the use of rented materials and digital textbooks. The reports cite that digital materials can cost 15-70% less than new print textbooks.
The Student Watch Survey, conducted by the National Association of College Stores, reported a decline of $23 per student in spending; it dropped from $602 during the 2015-2016 academic year to $579 during 2016-2017. Student Monitor, an independent study of student spending issued twice a year, reported a decline of $64 in spending per student, dropping from $607 during the 2015-2016 year to $543 in the 2016-2017 academic year.
More students than ever—82% of the respondents in the Student Monitor survey—are using comparison shopping. Students, the reports said, are taking advantage of the competitive market for course material, where there is an increased variety of low-priced options.
The Student Watch survey reported that as many as 52% of students use digital course materials. According to this study, renting a textbook costs about $30 less than buying one. More than 33% of the respondents in the Student Watch survey said they had rented one or more textbooks; that figure marks a record high.
International Versions of textbooks, what are they and are they legal in the US?
Textbook publishers sell their books worldwide and often price them based on book prices and economic conditions of the destination countries. These textbooks sold abroad are referred to “International Editions” or “Low price editions”.
An International Edition textbook is simply the international counterpart to a US Edition. Most international editions have slightly different covers, many have different ISBNs on the outside covers (although some have the same ISBN as the US edition on the inside), but are still printed on high-quality paper. These books were originally created to be sold in different regions, like Europe. International Edition textbooks have the same pagination and contents as the US Edition. All units, page numbers, and problem sets are the same as the US version.
Most international editions may bear a label that says something to the effect of “Not for sale in the U.S. or Canada”. This is because the publisher has printed the books to be sold overseas. There is nothing illegal, however, in purchasing international edition books from sellers overseas. In fact, the 2013 Supreme Court decision of Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley & Sons put this matter to rest, ruling that International Edition textbooks may be sold and purchased within the U.S. It also upheld the right of anyone to sell used international edition textbooks, which means that college students can resell their international edition textbooks when the semester is over!
Students are missing out on big savings by not investigating International Editions of textbooks. Website Cheap-Textbooks.com, whose textbook price service includes International Editions, recently ran a Twitter poll asking about International Edition usage and 100% of the respondents said they have not used a international Edition.
Renting vs Buying college textbooks is an option most college students have to consider. Many students simply pick the cheapest option but there are other considerations.
- Cheaper up front cost
- No risk of a new version coming out and devaluing a purchased textbook
- Buying used and reselling may be the cheapest method
- A better choice if the textbook will be used in another or advanced course
Deciding Which is Right for You
Now that we have listed the options and the pros of each, it’s up to you to decide! Just to recap, many students rent their college textbooks because it’s cheaper up front and they usually don’t use them after the class. The exception is textbooks that I’ll be using for multiple semesters. There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to buying or renting your textbooks, it just depends on you, your financial status, and your style of studying. Once you determine how you study and what you need in order to succeed, your textbook selection process will be a breeze.
What do other student recommend?
Textbook comparison website Cheap-Textbooks.com recently ran a Twitter poll for college students to vote on buying vs renting. The results were really right down the middle with 50% responding that they prefer to rent and 50% that prefer to buy.
In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.
BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.
The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.
For low-income students at community colleges, open educational resources might be an effective resource for keeping more students in school.
Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.
“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”