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Posted: Monday, January 25, 2010 12:00 am

Textbooks are not included in the sticker price of a college education, but they cost the average student at a four-year public institution more than $1,000 a year.

Rising textbook prices have inspired University Bookstore and Tech Bookstore to search for new ways of lowering students’ financial burden.

According to the College Board’s 2009 report on Trends in College Pricing, books and supplies cost students at four-year public schools $1,122 per year on average, or $561 per semester.

The Southern Regional Education Board, which is the accrediting body for Virginia universities, published an article on rising textbook prices titled, “Focus on Rising College Textbook Prices.”

The article said college textbook prices increased almost twice as quickly as the overall rate of inflation from 1986  -2004.

Local textbook retailers are working to offer more affordable prices, mainly using two strategies: an increased availability of used books and textbook rental programs.

Dave Wilson, associate director for University Bookstore, acknowledges prices have increased. The University Bookstore, which is located on campus near Newman Library, and Volume Two Bookstore are both owned by Virginia Tech Services, Inc.

“Yes, prices have gone up,” Wilson said. “Publishers tend to increase prices yearly.”

Wilson said his bookstore has been testing a textbook rental program. He said about 30 titles have been available to rent at the University Bookstore, and said plans are in place to expand the program in the fall.

The independent Tech Bookstore, on South Main Street, already has a rental program in place for the spring 2010 semester.

Its program requires the student to pay 50 percent of the book’s price and return it by the last day of exams. If the book is not returned, they will be charged for the rest of the book.

Currently, Tech Bookstore offers rentals on more than 300 books.

Internet startups are jumping on the rental bandwagon, too.

A California-based company called Chegg lets students order textbooks online and have them shipped via UPS. The four-year-old company has rented more than 1.5 million textbooks this year.

So many sites have popped up it’s hard to keep them straight: BookRenter.com, CampusBookRentals.com and TextBookRentals.com are just a few.

Not every textbook can be rented. Experts say books need to have a decent shelf life so they can be rented several times. A bookstore won’t recoup its costs if the fourth edition of a book is quickly replaced by the fifth.

A 2005 federal study reported that publishers revise textbooks every three or four years.

Nor does renting always make sense. Students who need their books beyond one semester class are better off buying. If a student needs a book immediately, waiting for books from Amazon.com and Half.com might not be possible.

Consumer advocates say textbook rental programs help by offering more choices.

The University Bookstore is currently offering rentals on only 30 titles. He said certain books couldn’t be offered to rent.

“I have to rule out any books that come bundled with online access codes,” Wilson said.

The SREB report listed bundling as a major factor of the increase.

Bundling is the practice of packaging supporting materials such as supplemental guides or online log-ins, along with the books.

Books up for rental are usually books that can be reused.

Wilson said University Bookstore also discounts its textbooks.

“We actually discount our books by up to 10 percent,” Wilson said. “We just decided we would be efficient — to make a little less profit than other university bookstores.”

Wilson said that while the University Bookstore is Tech’s official on-campus bookstore, it does not receive any university funding.

SREB lists rental programs and used books as effective strategies for lowering costs.

“We’re very aggressive in searching for used books,” Wilson said. “We’ve developed a relationship with used book companies around the country.”

Virginia requires faculty members to confirm all bundled materials will be used in class.

The state also mandates universities to provide a list of required textbooks be made available to students. The SREB report, however, states Virginia does not specify when the list must be available.

nrv news editor zach crizer contributed to this story

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