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Jacqueline Alvarez: ASUCLA Bookstore needs improved textbook rental system

By Jacqueline Alvarez

Sept. 21, 2017 7:31 p.m.

The United States textbook industry is worth a whopping $14 billion. And Bruins can count on UCLA’s textbook store to contribute to that amount.

On average, UCLA students spend more than $1,000 each school year for textbooks and other course materials. This amount may seem like a drop in the bucket of total student expenses, but textbook affordability continues to be an issue for many students.

The Associated Students UCLA Bookstore provides a variety of options for students to obtain their textbooks, one of them being a rental service in which students can rent books both in-store and online.

Despite allowing students to choose between purchasing and renting textbooks, students still pay a hefty amount of money for books they will probably only use for one quarter. And although Bruins can rent e-books from third parties, such as VitalSource or RedShelf, ASUCLA’s bookstore rental service is more of a quick way for students to see where they can get their course materials.

ASUCLA’s bookstore should adopt a rental service model that provides students access to all their required textbooks. Instead of paying rental fees for each textbook they need, students should be able to pay a reasonable quarterly fee and receive mandatory course textbooks for the quarter. Once the quarter ends, students would return the textbooks for other students to use.

This kind of textbook rental service could improve textbook affordability for Bruins across all economic backgrounds and guarantee they have access to high quality course materials. It may even improve overall business for the ASUCLA bookstore in the long run.

Students’ financial burdens continue to grow as textbook prices inflate, and this is especially the case for Bruins in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields where course materials are far more expensive. The UCLA chemistry and biochemistry department recently introduced a policy requiring instructors to provide students with no-cost alternatives for written course materials and textbooks. It’s worth noting the decision came after a parent contacted Chancellor Gene Block to express her anger over the high cost of a course reader for her son’s introductory chemistry class.

Unfortunately, not all students’ or parents’ concerns about exorbitant textbook costs have been heard.

Luis Ong, a second-year electrical engineering student, said he felt the costs for his required textbooks were too expensive even at the discounted rental prices from the ASUCLA bookstore. After his first quarter freshman year, he decided to use cheaper, low-quality PDF versions shared among his friends, which often made it difficult to read and get work done.

Many students are like Ong and seek out ways to circumvent hefty textbook prices. Instead of purchasing or renting textbooks at a high price, many students opt to exchange books among each other, sometimes reselling them through online forums and Facebook groups – effectively textbook black markets. This seems practical from a student perspective: Considering many professors mandate the purchase of the latest edition of specific books or books written by them, not to mention the high prices at the ASUCLA bookstore, students are forced to find alternatives to meet their academic needs.

Therefore, ASUCLA needs to adopt a more affordable textbook rental model – one where students pay a flat fee each quarter to gain direct access to all their required textbooks at a much lower cost. Purchasing or renting three to four textbooks each quarter could easily cost students hundreds of dollars, but paying a flat fee would prove far less expensive. And the bookstore could still continue to sell new and used textbooks to students who wish to keep them permanently or do not want to participate in the rental service.

ASUCLA could do this by continuing to work with departments and determine which textbooks are most popular. They could, in tandem, increase their stock for those specific textbooks and conduct a trial run for one quarter before expanding the operation to include more selections.

Additionally, departments could provide ASUCLA with information about which classes students are enrolled in to guarantee they only required their course textbooks. Students could also be asked to present their MyUCLA Study Lists to verify their enrollment in courses.

ASUCLA could also continue to enforce their current rental book rules, such as requiring students to return books after a quarter, minimize highlighting on pages and keep books in good condition.

Creating this type of service would not only lessen the financial burden on students when they’re forced to cough up large sums of money for textbooks, but would also ensure Bruins are using quality versions of their course materials to study and perform better academically. In the long run, this rental model may even improve business for the ASUCLA bookstore, as more students would gravitate toward the store’s services.

For some, implementing a new textbook rental system at the ASUCLA bookstore may seem unnecessary because of other options available, such as library reserves. These options, however, clearly aren’t enough to solve the textbook affordability problem, as evidenced by how many students circumvent these programs and continue to buy and resell books from the textbook black market or share materials with their peers. Rather, ASUCLA needs to devise a textbook sale model that is affordable and feasible, and a flat-rate rental system does just that.

UCLA is recognized as a school for students from all walks of life. It is time for our textbook prices to reflect that.

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Jacqueline Alvarez | Alumni Director
Alvarez is the Alumni Director and a senior staffer in the Opinion section. She was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2017-2018 school year and previously contributed as an opinion columnist. She writes about topics such as campus life, Westwood and Los Angeles city programs.
Alvarez is the Alumni Director and a senior staffer in the Opinion section. She was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2017-2018 school year and previously contributed as an opinion columnist. She writes about topics such as campus life, Westwood and Los Angeles city programs.
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