Expensive college textbooks

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Every year there seems to be a bit of news buzz in the first weeks of August about how expensive college textbooks have become. To help ease the burden, Congress has enacted new legislation mandating that institutions of higher learning be more transparent about college costs.

One of the reasons behind the higher costs of textbooks is something called "bundling." Publishers often package textbooks with additional supplements, such as CD study guides – useful, but not always necessary. The new Higher Education Act is asking publishers to provide clearer pricing information to bookstore buyers and educators, in addition to offering unbundled textbooks.

College textbooks are big business, even though publishers insist that profit margins are small. The University of Arkansas is predicting that its students will collectively spend more than $2.5 million this month alone on textbooks.

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Robert Ronstadt, a former vice-president at Boston University, has self-published a book and maintains a website on how to help keep college costs down. (It's hard not to point out the irony of buying Ronstadt's book for ideas on saving money, but his motives are obviously for the greater good.)

The California state auditor has also released a 102-page report suggesting ways educators can help minimize costs for students. You can read the full report here.

MSNBC.com features a good tip list for student textbook shoppers: Compare prices, rent or share books instead, and get to know online resources like Amazon's Kindle. Then there's that interesting place called the library, where you can borrow books – free.

When I was in college we didn't have to worry about bells and whistles with our textbooks. Few students even had their own computers (this is not as long ago as that sounds, I promise). I still have a number of my college books, complete with earnest notes in the margins. Occasionally I dust off one of these books and give it a good thumb-through. I'm always surprised at how quickly the ideas absorbed in that college classroom come flooding back. I'd be disappointed if our current generation of college students missed out on being able to shelve memories of their own.

Marjorie Kehe will return to Chapter & Verse tomorrow.

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