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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 13, 2014 at 3:59 PM

Your voices: How Seattle students and teachers save money on textbooks


Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

We received several responses to our earlier prompt asking readers how they save money on textbooks. The question stemmed from a story by higher education reporter Katherine Long about local college students who are pressing their professors to cut costs by using open-source online course materials.

Both students and teachers volunteered to share their strategies. Here are some excerpts:

I buy used textbooks and use student materials that go with the textbook and sometimes buy the online version. I’m not thrilled about how much the books still cost, but sometimes the online versions have been better than the printed versions. However, I find the online versions harder to read in some ways, maybe since I’m an older student than most.

—Will Affleck-Asch, Seattle

I always purchase used textbooks when I can for my students use in class especially since the district buys new social studies texts only every 18 years or so if we are lucky!

—Richard Katz, Seattle

I identify the textbooks for my next quarter when I register, and I find the current editions used online. I order them immediately to get the best condition books for the cheapest price. After the class is complete, I sometimes sell the current edition for the same used price as I paid, and then buy an older edition for a very low price for future reference. Or, I buy another reference altogether if I didn’t care for the text used in class.

Sometimes I even find new-in-plastic editions online for used-book prices, but the key is to order the books as early as I can identify the textbook requirements. If they are not posted by the bookstore after I register, then I email the professor for the textbook requirements.

I can’t imagine using electronic books. I flip around searching for material too much, and page memory plays a big role in finding things. Maybe I’d be better at using e-books if I’d grown up with them, but I just can’t imagine using them.

—Jeff Flogel, Seattle

I rent textbooks from Amazon. As soon as my university releases lists of books for the quarter, I immediately look on Amazon. The further away from the beginning of the quarter, the cheaper the book. Plus, they rent on the semester system. I’ve never used an online version of a book. I don’t have a device like an iPad to read them, and I prefer physical books anyway.

—Max Wasser, Seattle

I teach at the community college level, and I help save money on textbooks for my students in a very simple way — I don’t require them! Textbooks often offer a limited view of the field my students work in or plan to work in, and it would take several texts to cover the entire scope of information necessary for each class. I can’t rationalize asking students to spend several hundred dollars for book(s) for a single class, especially if we only need to use a small portion of the book. Together we explore web links, handouts, do readings, and invite speakers who work in the field or represent local organizations.

It takes a lot more planning on my part, and requires quarterly updating for events and keeping abreast of (researching) new information in the field, but I find it’s well worth it both to me and to my students. I often “recommend” books and other resources for students wishing to build a personal resource library, however I am clear that these are not required texts. I love learning just as much as they do, and doing a little extra work on their behalf is well worth it.

Karleen Wolfe, Seattle

Comments | More in Your voices | Topics: higher ed, textbooks


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The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

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