HOUSTON—Traditionally, most college students have had few choices when it comes to purchasing textbooks new or used being the most common alternatives.
Beginning this month, students at the University of Houston (UH) have the option to rent textbooks for the semester from the UH Bookstore, which could save them 50 percent or more over new books.
"Approximately 56 percent of all of our courses at UH will have a textbook rental program associated with them," said Emily Messa, assistant vice president for university services. "Additionally, we are also going to have a number of titles available in digital or e-books. More and more of our students are getting comfortable with apps and digital products, so that's something we are also glad to offer to our students."
UH is one of more than 300 institutions nationwide that will offer textbook rentals for the fall semester through a recently expanded on-campus bookstore pilot program operated by Barnes & Noble College Booksellers. UH Bookstore general manager Felix Robinson said hundreds of requests for rentals have already been received and more are coming in each day. UH students can opt for hard copy or online rentals of e-books.
"It's important because it helps students save money and gives students other options," said Robinson. "Students who can't afford to buy their books will certainly choose to rent them because of the low cost."
Like tuition, the cost of textbooks has skyrocketed in recent years. Data from the National Association of College Stores showed a 14 percent rise in the cost of textbooks in 2008-09, compared to the 2007-08 academic year.
For UH senior Quione Cook, buying a new book is a last resort. He tries to keep his expenses down by finding competitive online options, buying used books or even borrowing from friends.
"I definitely didn't think it would be as much as my housing rent for a month, but usually it costs a good $300 to $400 at the beginning of each semester," said Cook, a kinesiology and psychology double major. "It's always nice that the bookstore is expanding its options to allow you to do more."
The UH bookstore advisory committee, comprised of students, faculty and staff, has worked to address the issue of rising textbook prices for years. The weak economy, decrease in state funding and rising tuition rates have made their mission even more consequential.
"We are all about making affordable options available to our students. We know that as prices continue to go up on tuition and other things, we need to continue look at ways to keep other prices competitive or down," said Messa, who also serves as an ex-officio member of the committee.
While rented books can be marked with study notes and highlighted like any textbook, they cannot be sold back at the end of the semester. But according to Messa, the rental program allows the university to meet the needs of its diverse population whether they choose to rent or buy. In addition, the university offers textbook scholarships that are renewable each semester for students who meet the scholarship criteria. Textbook loans, offered through Student Financial Services, are also available as a stopgap for students waiting for other financial aid or scholarships.
The bookstore advisory committee previously researched the few universities in the country including University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Appalachian State University that have longstanding textbook rental programs. It found that to make it financially viable, the institutions made the upfront investment of purchasing all of the textbooks, and faculty had to commit to using the same text for a certain amount of time. Those factors made it impractical for UH, until now.
"With this particular textbook rental program, there is no financial liability to the University of Houston. It's something that Barnes and Noble was able to offer us proactively, because they see what's going on in the industry and want to continue to be the bookstore of choice for our students," said Messa.
Recent provisions to the federal 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which went into effect on July 1, also address textbook affordability. Working with Barnes and Noble, the course schedule on the UH website now lists the International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, and retail prices for course-related materials to the maximum extent possible.
"The reason for this is now students can go to their course schedule and know the total cost of their educational experience, not just the tuition and fees, but the cost of the textbook, so they can price match and see what will be the financial impact of them going to college," said Messa.
The UH bookstore advisory committee continues to look for ways to reduce textbook costs to students by closely following technological and industry trends. Messa says it has lofty goals for the 2010-2011 academic year, and UH students can expect to see more exciting developments in textbook offerings and options in the near future.