Students, Teachers Seek Ways to Cope with Textbook Costs

By Dustin Telefoni, Kapi‘o Staff Writer /

When a Castle High School teacher attended Kapi‘olani Community College more than 20 years ago, the textbooks required for her culinary courses cost a whopping $60.

“At the time, $60 was kind of expenses, but books never reached $100,” Miura said.

This semester, the three textbooks required for CULN 120 (Fundamentals of Cookery) cost a combined $208.80 when purchased new at the KCC Bookstore. The optional text sells for an additional $38.90

The high cost of culinary texts is not unique. The text used for many Math 100 courses, a core requirement for many students, costs $113.03 new and $87.50 if one is lucky enough to find a used copy.

The financial impact on full-time students already dealing with annual tuition increases can be significant. Shanty Lam Ho, a second-year radiology student, said she spent more than $500 on books for the Fall 2015 semester.

While American students like Ho expect to pay high prices for their college texts, the cost can be surprising for students from other countries — as hospitality students Mana Yokuda and Ayami Takahashi learned during a recent visit to the bookstore.

“We’re international students so expensive costs are expected but we spent about $200 at the bookstore,” Yokuda said.

While inflation affects all industries, data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the cost of college textbooks increased by 1,041 percent from January 1977 to June 2015, a rate that is three times the rate of inflation overall.

KCC Bookstore manager Jodee Dang explained that prices for individual college bookstores are affected by several factors, including market competition from online retailers like Amazon and mark-ups necessary to keep stores operational.

The KCC Bookstore operates independently from the college. The store purchases books ordered by instructors and applies a standard 24 percent mark-up. While some publishers offer discounts to clients, many of the larger publishers that dominate the market do not.

KCC Bookstore

KCC Bookstore

“We try to first sell used books, because we can lessen the price but most books don’t get bought back, which leaves teachers to order more books,” Dang said.

Publishers also routine update their best selling texts, which leads to a depletion of available copies of previous editions, which in turn prompts instructors to order the latest, most expensive edition for their classes.

The financial burden that these required texts place on students has prompted bookstores, campus libraries and faculty to look for creative alternatives, such as rental programs, library reserves, course readers, and so-called open educational resources.

“I decide to require books by content and then price,” said KCC English instructor Porscha Dela Fuente.

The required text for Dela Fuente’s ENG 100 course is $32.25 new and is $25.25 used. However, Dela Fuente also added the text to the KCC library textbooks reserve, making it available for students to borrow through the library.

For many years, Revolution Books has served as a lower-cost alternative for teachers ordering textbooks and other course materials. The independent bookstore operates on the principle of helping to disseminate information about social and political issues without an emphasis on profit. Generations of college teachers, most from the nearby University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, order books through the Revolution Books rather than the on-campus bookstore.

“The large publishers are only out for money,” said manager Caroline Hadfield.

Hadfield said she feels sorry for college bookstores, which are locked into a rigid economic model that may not be sustainable.

“College bookstores are the local bookstores,” she said. “Without them we only have Amazon and Barnes and Noble.”