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Textbook Rental Program Takes Off

By Emily Rogan

McHenry County College allows students to rent many course textbooks for far less than the sticker price.

Paying for tuition is a struggle for many community college students. Unfortunately, major college expenses don’t end with tuition: Textbooks can cost upward of $600 each semester. For students who are already financially tapped out, textbook costs can be the reason they drop out.

McHenry County College (MCC) in Crystal Lake, Ill., doesn’t want the high cost of textbooks to be a stumbling block for its students. The college offers a textbook rental program that provides students with course materials at up to 75 percent off the list price.

Karen Smith, the bookstore director, took some time from the busy start of the second semester to share with us how MCC’s textbook rental program is going.

How long has the rental program been in place?

It started three years ago; I’ve been working here for a year and a half. It grew so fast and got to be so successful that we almost needed another department to manage it, so we contracted with Nebraska Books to facilitate our rental program. It just made sense since they manage other programs for our school; it took the labor off our shoulders.

How does the program work?

Students need a state driver’s license and a credit or debit card we can keep on file. They pay the rental fee, but if they don’t return the books, we can charge the difference. At the register, students can decide whether they want to buy or rent their books. We use stickers with bar codes, so the students are credited with the returns. They need to return the books in decent condition, though they can write in the margins or highlight. There just can’t be water damage.

Why is the program so successful?

It’s a win-win for everybody. For the students, it’s cheaper to rent than to buy either new or used books.

And I don’t lose any sales because Nebraska Books pays us the difference between the rental fees and the actual prices. I can offer the students a really good price, and I don’t have to worry about sales dropping. In fact, my sales increase when more students rent because Nebraska Books gives me the rebate. The students don’t know the difference.

In turn, we function as a de facto warehouse for Nebraska Books. They don’t have to store any books because we have them here.

This is a great way to counter what the publishers are doing — $300 for a textbook? Why? It’s absolutely ridiculous.

Textbook prices increase by 3 to 5 percent every year. The more students rent, the more titles we get and the lower the prices go.

Why is a program like this important?

One of the big reasons for the rental program is that the students are our focus. We need to make sure we can serve every student who walks in our door. We have to provide what students need to succeed in their classes.

If students can’t afford the materials, they can’t do the work, and they can’t pass their classes. And financial aid doesn’t always cover books. We’re a rural community college, and students don’t have money to burn — most students don’t these days. The new reality is that everyone needs to go to college, and book costs can be a potential barrier for students to be successful and complete their education.

Textbook prices increase by 3 to 5 percent every year. The more students rent, the more titles we get, and the lower the prices go. About half our titles are available to rent; workbooks and nontraditional materials are not typically included.

What’s next?

I would like to see every title we have available for rent. We’re getting there.

Hopefully, the rental program won’t be where it ends. I think in the coming years we’re going to see other new programs geared toward being competitive and making sure students can complete and succeed.

I’m a college student myself, so I have a unique perspective. I know what it’s like for the students. I’m highly sympathetic to what these kids and parents are going through. We really do care that they succeed. It’s kind of pointless to be here if we’re not serving the students. That’s our role on the campus.

Does your college have a program to make textbooks more affordable? Tell us about it in the Comments.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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