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December 18, 2008


College Students Paying Too Much For Textbooks

New York college students in the state university (SUNY) and city university (CUNY) systems could save nearly 40 percent on their textbook costs if they made the purchases online instead of at their campus bookstores, according to a report issued today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“The rising cost of tuition is putting college out of reach for many students,” DiNapoli said. “And SUNY has just announced a $600 tuition increase. Students could save close to $500 a year on textbooks if they had the right information available to buy their books online. SUNY and CUNY and every private college in the state should be doing everything possible to help students save money, including giving them the opportunity to shop around for books. For some students, $500 could mean the difference between staying in school or dropping out because they can’t afford college.”

DiNapoli’s report found that students at four SUNY and two CUNY campuses would save an average of $245 a semester if they made all of their new textbook purchases through an online retailer. For example, a freshman sociology major at SUNY Binghamton would have spent $690.65 on textbooks at the campus bookstore for the current fall semester’s texts, but only $413.85 online. Other academic majors could save even more.

The report also found many students couldn’t shop online for books because of late posting of course listings and the lack of accurate book identification information. Many courses require the newest editions of textbooks be used, even if only minor revisions were made to the book.

“High textbook costs add an unnecessary burden to students and their parents, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel,” said Mindy A. Bockstein, chairperson and executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB). “Within the next two years bookstores, publishers, distributors and academia will be required to expand options, provide more transparent information and lower textbook costs for students, thanks to Governor Paterson’s Textbook Access Act of 2008 and the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act which takes effect in 2010. In the meantime, the CPB continues to urge faculty to submit their book orders early to increase student access to used textbooks. I congratulate Comptroller DiNapoli for this report, and advise consumers to follow his and other tips available online from the CPB.”

“These days, many students and families are trying to save money on college costs anyway they can. The earlier they know the ISBN numbers of their required texts, the more time students will have to shop around for the best prices,” said Fran Clark, program coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

A typical undergraduate can expect to pay as much as $4,000 for textbooks over the course of a four-year degree program.

DiNapoli’s report recommends:

  • colleges post a full course listing with required textbooks on their Web sites at least six weeks before classes start;
  • posted textbook lists should include the specific ISBN of each textbook, along with the title, author edition and publisher and the campus bookstore price;
  • colleges provide the same information for acceptable alternatives to the required textbook version; and
  • professors should limit textbook edition changes to allow for the purchase of used books.

“Students are struggling to afford their education as the state and the nation face unprecedented financial challenges,” said Jacob Crawford, president of the Student Assembly of the State University of New York. “These recommendations will hopefully relieve some of that stress. I look forward to the SUNY Student Assembly partnering with the Comptroller’s office to help make these recommendations a reality.”


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