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Swooping In To Lower Soaring College Textbook Costs

simkin_groupThe rising cost of college textbooks is on the minds of students, legislators, online entrepreneurs and college administrators.

For example, at College of the Canyon an accounting or engineering course may cost $100 dollars but the textbook is $400.

“If the textbooks are three or four times what students are paying for their classes we really are deceiving ourselves if we think that we have a widely accessible, widely available open educational system, we don’t,” said James Glapa-Grossklag, Dean of Distance Learning at COC.

jonathan-simkinAt 23 years of age, Jonny Simkin (left) is not too old to remember the high cost of college engineering textbooks. After seeing prices at the school book store he turned to the internet.

“I would actually spend a couple of hours comparing prices across all the major websites, for all of my books, but the problem was that I had to do it manually and it was just a huge pain," said Simkin.

That’s when Simkin, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with an Economics Concentration from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California decided to create Swoopthat.com.

The website, Simkin says, helps college students and their families save up to 75 percent on textbooks.

“We’ve integrated price comparisons directly with student course schedules. So students enter their courses and we’ll tell them which books they need and where they can buy those books and save money,” said Simkin.

(To learn more about SwoopThat, click here.)


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Legislators are also looking for ways to save college students money on textbooks.  Last week Assembly Member Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) chaired an oversight hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) on the affordability of college textbooks.

“Combined with rising student fees, textbook prices have become an insurmountable financial burden for college students and their families,” said Lara.

The hearing focused on the 2008, State Auditor’s audit entitled, “Affordability of College Textbooks: Textbook Prices Have Risen Significantly in the Last Four Years, but Some Strategies May Help to Control These Costs for Students”.

(The State Auditor’s report can be read by clicking here.)

The audit found that, on average, a full-time student pays between $700 and $900 annually on textbooks.

College of the Canyons quoted the California Student Aid Commission’s estimate of $909.00 per year as representative of their student’s textbook costs.

According to Michael Joplin, Dean of Student Services at College of the Canyons a textbook rental program sprang up through some locally funded measures. Barnes and Noble, which operates the COC campus bookstore, caught wind of the trend and piloted a similar program of their own.

“Quite a number of different titles, in different disciplines are available for rent by Barnes and Noble to students. Students can save up to 50 percent off a newly printed textbook by renting the book,” said Joplin.

College of the Canyons says they’ve also been committed to leveraging technology to lower student textbook prices and increase student access. Since 2005 they’ve been involved in the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement.

Part of OER is using online books as classroom textbooks, most prominently in core curriculum courses such as Sociology 101.

“It’s a fully online textbook. It’s licensed by Creative Commons with the express purpose of sharing and being repurposed for educational purposes. They use that as their required textbook in the Sociology 101 class here,” said Glapa-Grossklag.

A textbook that would normally cost a student $100 now pays nothing.

Assembly Member Lara supports OER.

“In today’s digital era, technological advances facilitate the increased use of electronic books, content and curriculum, thereby creating a unique opportunity to reevaluate and reduce the costs of text books,” said Lara.

Glapa-Grossklag say lowering the total cost of access to education is part and parcel to what they do in the community college educational system, especially at College of the Canyons.

“Because that allows more people to get into education and the more people we have in our educational system, the more qualified workers we’re going to be able to have in our community, the higher our tax base is going to be in the community, the nicer place for all of us to live here,” said Glapa-Grossklag.

To learn more about the global organization promoting OER, click here. : 

To learn more about Open Education Week, a worldwide event promoting the importance of open education, click here.