Public Interest Research Group launches campaign to help students purchase cheap textbooks at Rutgers

<p>Photo Illustration | New Jersey Public Interest Research Group has been working with Rutgers officials to launch a program to let students buy cheaper textbooks.</p>

Photo Illustration | New Jersey Public Interest Research Group has been working with Rutgers officials to launch a program to let students buy cheaper textbooks.

The average Rutgers student spends about $1,500 per year on textbooks and course materials — $300 more than the national average — on top of other expenses like tuition, rent, food and household bills, said Kaitlyn Vitez, Rutgers NJPIRG Student Chapters campus organizer.

To call attention to high prices and to highlight potential solutions to the problem, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) launched its campaign for textbook affordability, according to a NJPIRG press release.

“Over the past 10 years NJPIRG’s been working to bring textbook rental programs not only to campuses in New Jersey but to the country, and just in the past two years we’ve been working on bringing open-source textbooks to Rutgers campus,” Vitez said.

Last year, the Rutgers University Senate passed a resolution in favor of creating an open-source textbook pilot program modeled after a program at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Vitez said. On Feb. 3, Rutgers announced the creation of a $12,000 competitive grant program available for professors at Rutgers.

Applications have not been sent out yet, but based on projections, the pilot program is going to save students more than $1 million, she said.

“(Open-source textbooks) makes these (books) free to download and share online, and students can either purchase it themselves or buy these books at the bookstore for less than $40 compared to a big (biology) textbook that’s $300 – that’s a pretty significant saving," Vitez said.

In early February, NJPIRG released a report citing statistics from a nationwide survey of nearly 5,000 students, including 1,098 from New Jersey.

The report found that about 29.7 percent of students had to use financial aid to pay for textbooks. According to the NJPIRG study, this means that more than 5.2 million students across the nation use financial aid to purchase their textbooks.

“It’s really awesome that (the University) is moving forward on the issue, and that we can try and save students some money,” Vitez said. “We’re just really glad that this program is now a reality and instructors are going to have the opportunity to bring open-source into the classroom.”

Not long after hearing about the campaign, Alexandra Singh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, has signed up to offer her support.

“Textbook prices are crazy — I actually haven't bought one in three semesters. I either try to find it online or borrow it from the library,” Singh said. 

For the current semester, Singh used a free trial to finish an entire semester's worth of work over two nights, saving herself $135 in the process, she said.

These kinds of situations are stressful, she said, but people do not have the kind of money to spend on these sources for class when it is more needed for other things, such as gas and food.

"I had to go through every aisle and stock the books on the shelves. The prices for some of those textbooks were insane,” said Singh, who is a Barnes and Noble employee. “Companies are expecting kids to pay hundreds of dollars, not just $100, but hundreds.”

Noor Meky, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she sometimes has to buy at least five textbooks, costing $45 to $60 each, for a single class.

“Even though the older editions cost like $2, you are forced to get the new editions,” Meky said. “There is no reason for it either, other than the publishers wanting to make more money off us. I feel like we have no choice in the matter either because companies don’t care."

The pilot program that was created is only in place for one year, Vitez said. Rutgers can test out the application process and what the results look like at the University.

If the program is successful, she said it may serve as a model for other schools across the nation.

“What’s really important is that we get the word out about this pilot program so that it’ll be funded for a second year and continue to save students money,” she said.


Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.

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