College textbook rental coming to Minnesota

Rental market
Pradeet De Noronha hopes textbook rentals will save college students money, and drive business to his independent Student Book Store.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

It's a time-honored tradition -- college students pay premium prices for books they use for four months.

At the end of that time, they return to the store and sell the books back -- and get little more than pocket change in return.

University of Minnesota junior Sonya Sturgis emerges from a bookstore where she unloaded two books. Both were pricey items at the start of the semester.

"Probably anywhere between $40 and $100 (for each book). I don't quite remember," Sturgis said.

And what did she get back for them?

"We are trying to make an effort to make sure we drop this cost down."

"Nothing."

A book has little or no value if a new edition is coming out, or a professor decides not to use it anymore. The bookseller was kind enough to throw Sturgis' books in the recycle bin for her.

This fall, six institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System will allow students to rent selected textbooks for the first time.

One of those institutions is Anoka Technical College, where Leo Christenson is dean of student resources. Renting will cost students about one-fifth of the price of buying a new book.

Christenson sayd the rental offer will include books in at least three basic skills courses this fall.

"They're three or four credits, so they can be $450 to $600 just for tuition," Christensen said. "The textbooks on top of that can be close to $100 for each of those courses. We also found that the students who took those courses were selling at the used book buyback at a very high frequency."

MnSCU's six pilot projects are seeded with $500,000 in state money. It costs as much as $1,000 per student to get the rental project going. Much of the cost comes from buying and keeping the required books, according to MnSCU's Director for Libraries, Todd Digby.

"At a four-year institution, probably about 40 percent of the textbooks would be used at one time," Digby said. "So you're still storing about 60 percent of the textbooks you have. Which is space, which is facilities, and that costs a lot of money."

The idea grew out of pressure from student organizations to address increasing textbook costs. Graeme Allen, government relations director for the Minnesota State University Student Organization, is hopeful text rentals will be the solution students seek.

"We're very interested in what works on each campus and what might work across all the campuses," Allen said. "We'll be analyzing that, and hopefully come back with some recommendations maybe by the end of this next academic year. We're hoping to see some significant savings in a year or so."

There's one other place that's testing the text rental waters.

"This is the one that cheesed off a lot of students last year," said Pradeet De Noronha, store manager for the independent Student Book Store in the Dinkydome near the University of Minnesota, as he looked over a stack of books titled, "The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change."

"A thousand students in the class," De Noronha said. "They (each) paid about 90 bucks. There's a new edition out. It's being used for the summer and that's it. We've met our quantity. You got $7 for a book you paid $90 for."

Such a book, De Noronha said, would rent for about $10 a semester.

"You're going to save a tremendous amount of money, and then you don't come back at the end of the year feeling like the bookstore screwed you," he said.

The bookstore is making the change without the benefit of state seed money. And, unlike the MnSCU experiments, he doesn't want to place any limitations on what texts the instructors use, De Noronha said. He hopes the student-centered service will give his store a competitive edge.

"We expect increased volume, showing our dedication to the students," he said. "We are trying to make an effort to make sure we drop this cost down. Students all over the country are complaining about textbook prices. And so therefore we've taken it on ourselves to do something about it."

As she leaves the bookstore with empty hands and empty pockets, U of M student Sonya Sturgis is happy to give the new approach a try.

"Each semester I pay anywhere from $300 to $600 on books, so renting them would probably save me quite a bit," Sturgis said. "And I never get anything back for them anyway for them, so I'd definitely be down for renting."

Organizers of the six MnSCU pilot projects say they hope to expand the rental programs once they determine how well they work in the long run.

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