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Ohio college students struggle to pay for tuition and textbooks
Some students are sharing, going without or taking advantage of 'open textbooks'

Jo Ingles
Courtesy of Stephen Cummings, Creative Commons
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Paying for college is a struggle for many Ohio students. And it’s not just the high cost of tuition that is difficult. A new study shows the high cost of books for classes has some students making tough decisions. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on what students are doing to afford the books they need for classes.
Ohio college students struggle with paying for tuition and for textbooks

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It’s mid-afternoon on a cold day at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. Students can be seen walking throughout campus with backpacks full of books. But for many students, getting those books isn’t easy. Senior Vince Donofrio says it’s always tough to come up with the texts required for classes in his major. 

He estimates economics texts run $200 to $300 each, "which is insane. And the worst part is that we don’t even use them much of the time.”

Junior Blake Adkins says getting books for his classes have requires him to become a savvy shopper. 

“I usually try to buy online at Amazon, or somewhere like eBay isn’t bad. ... I’ve seen books for probably a couple of hundred bucks through the bookstore but on Amazon it will be $80 to $100 max.”

Some students, such as senior Jason Lonnemann, cut the cost by trying to buy them with someone else in the same class. They split the price, "and then at the end of the semester, we usually sell them back and split the revenues from that.”

Senior Alyssa DeRobertis sats she gets all her texts at the library.

Sacrificing grades
But Bryan Stewart with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund says many students are not lucky enough to find ways to borrow or share books. And he says a new survey by his group shows students who need books they can’t afford are trying to decide which grades they'll sacrifice because they can't do the required reading. 

“You have three or four books assigned for a class. And you look and say, ‘Well, I’ve only got about 50 pages of that book assigned for a class and it’s $40, so maybe I’ll be able to borrow it, maybe I won’t. I’ll take that hit.’”

Stewart says students often decide which classes to take based on the cost of books. And that can cause problems iif the student doesn’t have the required courses as they near graduation. Stewart says sometimes students can sell their books back for other students to use but often times, they get just pennies on the dollar. 

A new option cis called “open textbooks."

“It’s actually a pretty new concept. It’s a faculty written, peer-reviewed book. It’s similar to any traditional textbook you’ve seen. It’s published in a way that anybody can download them off the internet and they don’t have some sort of expiration date when you can download them or only print a certain amount.”

Stewart says the fact is there simply are not enough of these open textbooks now, so students are often left to scramble for money to pay for their books. The College Board estimates students are spending an average of $1,200 on books and supplies this year – about 14 percent of the cost of tuition at a four-year public college and 39 percent of tuition at a two-year community college.

Grant money is often doled out in a way that it applies only to tuition, leavign nothing to pay for living expenses and books.

Ohio PIRG says the best way to lower the cost of textbooks is to take control away from big publishing companies. It's calling on lawmakers and faculty at college campuses to adopt their own open textbook initiatives.
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