How community-college students get their textbooks

Earlier this month I posted the results of a survey of how Minnesota State University students get their textbooks -- new, used, rented, online, etc.

Here's the companion survey, which covers students at Minnesota state community and technical colleges.

As with the last one, this was not a scientific survey, especially considering the small sample size. (Justin Klander, executive director of the Minnesota State College Student Association, said it surveyed 244 student delegates at an association summit in October. But because those delegates represent more than 40 of the 47 campuses covered by the association, he said, the sample "is a good cross section.") So I'm just laying out the rough impressions the surveys convey.

Many of the responses were similar to those given by the university students, but they tended to indicate that community college students used nontraditional textbook options such as rentals and eBooks much less frequently, either due to lack of access or lack of interest.

Here are the findings:

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  • Minnesota community college students care a bit more about convenience. Though cost is still the overriding factor, about 12 percent said convenience was more important -- compared to just 3 percent of Minnesota's state university students.

  • They're more prone to buy new books from the bookstore. About three in four students said they "sometimes" or "often" preferred to buy new books, compared to less than half of the university students.

  • They view used books similarly. Almost nine in 10 students in both groups said they "often" or "sometimes" preferred to buy used books from the school bookstore.

  • They buy fewer books online. Just over half said they "often" or "sometimes" bought books online, compared to about eight in ten university students.

  • E-Books are still quite uncommon. Only 15 percent said they "sometimes" or "often" bought e-Books, compared to about 33 percent of university students. Twenty-six percent said they had no access to e-Books, compared to 8 percent of the university students. About equal measures (58-59 percent) of students in both groups said they "never" bought an e-Book.

  • Free books are uncommon, too. Sixty-eight percent of community college students said they never tried using free books, whereas 44 percent of the university students said that. Eighteen percent said they "sometimes" or "often" tried using them, compared to 27 percent of university students. Interestingly, just 14 percent of community college students said free books were not available for their courses -- half the rate of university students who said so.

  • Rentals are often not available. Sixty-seven percent community college students said their school didn't have a rental program, compared to 24 percent of university students. Only 5 percent use their campus rental program (compared to 22 percent at universities), and 20 percent don't use the rental program offered. (About half of the university students neglected that service.) Only about 8 percent of community college students rent books from online dealers, compared to 25 percent of university students.

  • Community college students don't see faculty helping. Whereas university students were split on whether they thought instructors took cost into account when choosing textbooks for their courses, only about one in three community college students thought so.

  • They tend to want more information for shopping. Whereas about nine in 10 university students said the title and ISBN of their textbooks was enough info to shop for book bargains online, only six in 10 community college students thought so.

  • Many need less time to shop around -- or bargain-hunted less. Fifty-five percent said they could wait until registration to find out what books they'd need, as opposed to 40 percent of university students. Still, about the same amount in both student groups (36-37 percent) said they needed about a month to shop around. About nine percent of community college students said they needed the information two weeks before class, compared to about 23 percent of university students.

Textbooks "are something I'm hearing about from our students -- more than I used to," said Travis Johnson, president of the association. "I just received an e-mail from a student who really wanted to see an initiative (by the association) on behalf of students. Students are looking for more options – not just new or used, but  either a textbook rental program or an e-book option, even a textbook library where you can check them off. It's a high priority."

Considering that his own $400 textbook bill was about a third the size of his tuition bill last summer, the business administration major said the issue "is a relatively high priority."

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