UIS joins Rent-A-Text program

State Journal-Register
August 2, 2010
 By: Chris Dettro

College textbook costs have risen at four times the rate of inflation and can add several hundred dollars to a student’s annual education bill.

And good luck getting full price when you try to sell that $50 copy of “Beowulf As It Relates to Early Transcendentalism” at the end of the semester.

But students at the University of Illinois Springfield may be able to reduce some of those costs this fall with the Rent-A-Text program being offered through the UIS Bookstore, which is operated by Follett Corp.

Follett, which has bookstores on 860 campuses, offered the program at seven campuses last year on a trial basis. It allows students to save as much as half on the price of some college texts.

The national rollout this fall will include 740 bookstores, including the one at UIS.

Follett saw more and more students renting textbooks online and developed a rental program through its bookstores.

Price pressure was causing rental to become the most attractive option, said Elio DiStaola, director of campus relations for Follett Higher Education Group. He said the Rent-A-Text program saved students at the seven pilot campuses more than $2 million.

“We were seeing students showing up with less and less of the required materials,” he said. “We want to make sure more students are prepared.”

45 percent of new

Tim Barnett, vice chancellor for student affairs, said it was up to UIS to participate in the rental program.

“We said we’d try it for a year and see how it goes,” he said.

Barnett said 20 faculty members have put rental books on their class lists, and students will have 285 titles to choose from.

“Faculty check to see if the text they want to use is on the list, and then they say they’ll use it,” Barnett said.

Nationally, Follett has more than 6,000 titles available.

“It’s Follett’s response to student complaints about the high cost of books,” he said. “It’s a competitive market.”

The rental price is 45 percent of a new book, Barnett said. The student signs a contract to return the book shortly after final exams. A collection fee is added to the price of the book if it isn’t returned.

A student also can decide later to buy the book.

“The upside is that the students save money up front,” Barnett said. “They can order online and have the books delivered to the UIS bookstore. And there is a refund period should a student decide to drop the class.

“It just makes it more affordable,” he said.

Faculty like it, too

Barnett said that if a faculty member selects a book on the Follett list, their obligation is to use it for at least one semester. They can opt to have other books put on the list, but they are obligated to use them for four semesters, Barnett said.

Barnett said 32 students are renting at least one textbook this summer.

“They haven’t started yet for fall, but I’m sure the numbers will be much higher then,” he said. “I haven’t heard any negative comments from students at all. My understanding is that the faculty is excited about it, too.”

Michael Stephens, a UIS senior from Fairbury, rented one text for a general education course this summer and saved $35. He said other books used in the course weren’t available to rent.

He bought a book required for a course in his major because he knew he’d want to keep it.

Stephens said he’ll definitely rent textbooks through the bookstore this fall, again except for those in his major.

“It’s less of a hassle,” he said. “Even if you buy them elsewhere and get them cheaper, you have to resell them.”

Online vs. bookstore

Charles Olivier, a senior and Springfield student representative to the U of I board of trustees, said he thinks its good that students have the option to rent through the bookstore, but he probably won’t use it himself.

“They won’t have many of the books students will need,” he said. “I’ve heard roughly 30 percent to 40 percent.

“I still think to buy or rent online is cheaper,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful alternative if you’re buying books at the bookstore, and it’s a good idea to have that option.”

DiStaola said renting through the bookstore offers advantages that renting from other sources can’t provide.

“They can use their financial aid to rent, they can ensure they get the right book, and there’s a method of refunding if they drop the class,” he said.

He said the program, in which Follett has invested $120 million, has been tweaked since last year to give faculty increased flexibility and to allow for both online and in-store rentals.

New law

A new federal law is designed to help students get a better handle on textbook costs that now average $700 a year, according to the National Association of College Stores.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act, which went into effect July 1, requires that textbook publishers and universities disclose of the wholesale and retail prices of a book and changes made in the text over the three previous editions. The law also requires that publishers alert professors to the cost of a book before they select it for their courses.

The act applies to all colleges and universities that accept federal aid.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who pushed for the new law, also advocates the Open College Textbook Act, which would provide grants to put general texts online for free access by students.

He said Congress probably won’t consider that act this year.

During a recent teleconference sponsored by Durbin’s office, Rashi Mangalick, a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said he spent $900 on textbooks last year and got only $150 back when he sold them back.

D. Steven White, a professor of marketing and international business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, is using an “open textbook” in one of his classes and expects between 40 percent and 50 percent of the students to use the free online version of the book.

“Affordable alternatives exist,” he said. “Flatworldknowledge.com (an open-source textbook provider) is turning the industry on its head, for example.”

EIU’s rental tradition

Students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston have never had to buy their textbooks.

“We’ve been renting textbooks since the first students in 1899 rented them for $1,” said university spokeswoman Vicki Shaw-Woodard.

“I just can’t imagine how much students have to pay for books right now,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t want to do it.”

EIU will charge students $9.95 per credit hour this fall for their texts, no matter how many are required for a class. With most full-time students taking 15 credit hours, that means they will pay slightly less than $150 per semester for books.

They still have to buy some books that can’t be returned, such as workbooks.

In 2004, there were only about 20 universities nationwide at which students rented their texts instead of buying them outright. Eastern and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville were among them, Shaw-Woodard said.

Students can buy their books instead of returning them at the end of the semester. The cost depends on how many times the book has been issued.

“The cost goes down 10 percent per issue, but never goes below half-price,” Shaw-Woodard said. EIU also has a “sidewalk sale” of discards and outdated texts once a semester.

“There have been situations in the past where some were wanting to have more leeway in what texts to use, but getting away from renting textbooks was never seriously considered,” Shaw-Woodard said. “It’s very popular among students and their parents.”

A new textbook rental building opened at EIU this summer and will be used for the first time in the fall, she said.