University strives for cheaper textbooks, falls short
Textbooks are expensive. Though UH has taken steps toward lightening the financial burden faced by students, many still suffer consequences of high costs and low availability caused by professors failing to turn in book requests on time to the UH Bookstore.
The University has pursued multiple endeavors to lower textbook costs — including open-source and loose-leaf options — however, more than three quarters of professors had not submitted fall textbook adoptions by the University’s deadline.
In order to alleviate high prices, the bookstore has its adoption deadline for professors in March for the fall semester, well ahead of the deadline required by the state of Texas, said finance senior Valentin Perez, a two-time Bookstore Advisory Committee appointee who is reapplying for a third term.
According to previous coverage by The Cougar, early adoption allows the bookstore to browse and purchase from larger pool of products, offering students more used and rental options.
UH set the deadline for Summer and Fall 2017 textbook adoptions as March 24. Despite this, Rosen said only 24 percent of professors submitted their adoption requests on time.
Rosen said 21 percent of professors met the deadline for Fall 2016.
“It is important to note that the bookstore usually receives 95 percent of its adoptions prior to the first week of classes,” said UH spokesperson Mike Rosen.
However, Texas House Bill 33 mandates universities set their textbook adoption deadline at least 30 days before the start of each semester, according to previous coverage by The Cougar.
According to the Barnes & Noble College’s FacultyEnlight website, students save anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the original cost on used and rental books, and if the bookstore has adoptions for the next semester in by the end of the current one, they can buy books back from students at a higher price.
“We will pay 50 percent of the cost of that book if the book will be used next semester,” said Felix Robinson, the general manager at the University of Houston Bookstore, in a 2012 SGA meeting. “We want to be able to buy those books back before students leave.”
Perez said that despite the cost-saving measure of ordering early, the bookstore still adds a substantial price markup.
“The bookstore also charges at least 30 to 35 percent markup on every textbook,” Perez said. “So, teachers have been, in the syllabus, redirecting students straight to the publisher’s website. Usually, when you go straight to the publisher’s website, it’s much cheaper than the bookstore because it doesn’t have the markup cost.”
Robinson said in an email that the price markup is industry standard and covers expenses like labor, freight and the cost to maintain a physical location as well as an online bookstore.
“It is also important to remember that a percentage of the bookstore revenue is paid to the University of Houston to help to support important initiatives like scholarships and special programs,” Robinson said, “and that we employ a large number of UH students in our bookstore each year.”
Finance junior Joe Ridyard said he spent nearly $700 out-of-pocket buying his books for the semester from the bookstore. He said he believes purchasing from the on-campus store was the reason for the hefty price.
“I think, frankly, because it’s a monopoly and you have no option,” Ridyard said regarding the textbook prices.
Professors have been pushing loose-leaf options because students can selectively print certain chapters of the book rather than purchasing the whole thing, Perez said. The bookstore was helpful in that regard, he said, since a publisher’s website wouldn’t have selected chapters available.
The Student Government Association’s current administration ran on a platform that advocated for the Open Textbook Network — an open source textbook resource that offers free alternatives for UH Core classes to books published by big publishers.
“During the elections, Adrian and I had asked students what things they would like to change/make better about their overall college experience,” said Student Government Association President Winni Zhang in an email. “An overwhelming amount of people replied with the high costs of college, specifically textbook prices. It’s also a national problem that students face. Each student pays nearly $600+ a semester (on average) for textbooks in the US.”
Zhang said that since UH joined the Open Textbook Network in February, and all that is left to do is convince departments to transition to the platform.
“Our goals are to ensure most large core classes are using OTN,” Zhang said. “The Provost’s Department is already doing a pretty good job on starting the trial project with 20 professors right now.”
The 20 professors had positive experiences with the textbooks and have been vocal about them, she said. The cost-saving measures for students should motivate departments to transition, Zhang said, and where SGA can help is by talking to the departments about the benefits of OTN.