With textbook costs a perennial issue of concern for students, one Southern California community college recently made headlines with a new program that allows students to rent textbooks instead of purchasing them.
Southwestern College in San Diego is making available five of the school’s most popular textbooks to be rented for prices ranging from $19 to $23.50. These books normally cost between $77.95 and $109.50.
Cal State Fullerton is one Orange County university that has already started a textbook rental program.
Could a similar program be in the works for UC Irvine? According to Raymond Giang, vice president of administrative affairs for the Associated Students of UCI, options are already being considered.
‘[ASUCI has] looked at different models to turn our book exchange into a book rental program, but there is too much start-up cost,’ Giang said.
Instead, ASUCI is considering a ‘guaranteed buyback’ program, which would shift the initial costs to the students, rather than to ASUCI.
Although no plans have been formalized, Giang explained how the program might work, if implemented.
‘Say the economics department guarantees that they’ll be using ‘Economics, Sixth Edition,’ for three years,’ Giang said. ‘A student will buy the book at the Bookstore and we’ll put something in the book saying that there’s a guaranteed $75 buyback. After the first student, it will always be sold at a $100 set price. Every student after the first will be lucky. In a sense, it is a rental program, but there is no upfront cost for ASUCI.’
According to Giang, the UCI Bookstore has been receptive to the idea, perhaps because the profit on the sale of a used book is often higher than on a new one.
‘[The program at Southwestern College] is actually a program that quite a lot of schools have looked at over the last two to three years since the first CalPIRG report came out,’ said Hiromi Ueha, acting director of the UCI Bookstore. ‘[Fullerton] implemented the program about a year ago and has slowly added more titles that qualify for the rental program. … In my opinion, the rental programs would be more successful at the community college and [California State University] schools because of the many core courses they offer.’
The biggest obstacle for any sort of rental program at UCI may be the relative freedom that UC professors have in choosing textbooks for their courses.
‘I think one of the obstacles, [which] is a perk for the faculty who teach in the UC system, is the academic freedom in their course material selection, meaning the professors and instructors can select which books they would like to use for the class,’ Ueha said. ‘Campuses like CSUF and community colleges can or will assign to their faculty what books can be used for their core classes.’
Departmental policies vary as to who gets to choose a course textbook. Some textbooks are chosen by a dean, others by a board of faculty members and still others by individual professors.
According to Giang, this means that while some professors have used the same textbooks ‘since who knows when,’ others use new textbooks every year or more often.
‘We’ll try to start talking to faculty this quarter in courses like Mathematics 2 and Economics 20,’ Giang said. ‘We’ll start with the easier ones. Social science may be the hardest because the professors choose their own books.’
Meanwhile, at Southwestern College, the much-touted book rental program has not affected many students, many of whom were unaware of its implementation.
‘Oh, that would be great, but I don’t think they do it,’ said Karina Callu, a first-year undecided/undeclared major.
Viviana Callu, a second-year communications major, was familiar with the program only through local news coverage.
‘I had heard something about it, but I haven’t heard anything about it getting started,’ Callu said.
Gaby Vega, a second-year child development major, was similarly unaware.
‘I try to borrow as many books as I can from friends,’ Vega said. ‘I would be very interested in renting them from the [Southwestern] Bookstore, but I’m not aware that they have a program like that.’
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