According to a 2013 survey conducted by New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), 57% to 74% of students, depending on a college, have considered not buying or renting a book due to its high cost. The number of the City College of New York (CCNY) students leaning towards not buying or renting at is about 70%. Even though the rate of students considering not buying books is above 60% among all the nine City University of New York (CUNY) Colleges that were surveyed, CCNY’s rate is among the highest ones.
Unjustifiably high prices for college books add more financial pressure on students who are already bound by high cost of tuition, board, transportation, and other college related expenses. The tuition at the State University of New York (SUNY), for example, has risen 340% since 1987. Moreover, responsibility for paying college tuition has been actively shifted from the state to individuals, which leads to the increase in student borrowing. In fact, an average SUNY student graduates the university with about $25,000 in unpaid student loans. Moreover, students all over the nation owe more than $1 billion for their student loans.
In addition to the increase in college tuition cost, book prices have been skyrocketing more than prices on any other consumer goods. Today, students are spending about $1,200 on books and other supplies. In addition to that, book prices have increased 80% over the past ten years. This is happening for a number of reasons, yet one of the reasons is that major publishing companies have a monopoly over the publishing market, since it is owned by five major companies. This control of the market allows these major companies manipulate the prices and raise them whenever they please. Lack of competition on the market leads to, virtually, a dictatorship over the prices of the books.
What is problematic about all this is that price increases of tuition, books and other college related expenses affect working class and poor communities the most. In New York these communities spend nearly 37% of their income on college expenses. Taking into account other expenses an average working class or poor family has to allocate its budget to, such as housing, utility bills, groceries, transportation, insurance, etc., college becomes an affordable luxury to some of them. High cost of college tuition and book prices force some families to choose between feeding themselves and paying for bills and sending their children to college.
This is why, NYPIRG urges policymakers, college administrations and faculty members to alleviate book related costs for students by switching to an “open source” book publishing that allows free distribution among colleges under an open license. The organization also encourages New York state government to allocate funds to the CUNY’s pilot program to test “open source” books. Another way to reduce students’ expenses on books may the promotion of alternative online resources that provide used book for rent at a much lower price than conventional book stores. In addition to that, faculty members might consider offering books that are more affordable. Finally, publishing companies should, finally, stop increasing book prices as this has turned into a complete discrimination and manipulation of students.