Undergrads are lowering their college expenses in unexpected ways.
Buying textbooks – it’s the back-to-school tradition that no one wants to talk about. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the cost of textbooks has increased at a faster rate than any other aspect of college life, with students budgeting more than $1,200 each year on average. As prices rise, students at Wheaton are finding inexpensive ways to acquire their course texts.
Senior Spanish and secondary education major Brandon Krohn doesn’t make any rash decisions when it comes to textbooks. He tries to buy them after the start of classes, especially if he gets the opportunity to gauge the situation. “Sometimes professors will say at the beginning of class, ‘We won’t really need this book too often,’ so I usually try to wait,” said Krohn.
Krohn also sees the need for balance between fair consumer pricing and high publishing costs.
“Yes, it’s expensive,” he said. “ we are paying for high-quality expert material. While it’s not fun to drop $50 for a 60-page manual, I think it’s fair.”
Emily Brabec, a fifth-year English literature major, uses the Wheaton College Textbook Exchange, a closed group on Facebook made up of students and recent graduates. As an administrator of the group, Brabec moderates the forum, approving members and monitoring posts.
Brabec uses the Textbook Exchange to buy and sell books. Once a student has agreed to buy a book from her — or sell their book to her — she will meet up with the student in a public space on campus to make the trade.
“I have never purchased books from the campus store,” Brabec said. “They tend to be overpriced. If I can’t get them on the Textbook Exchange, I will typically get them from Amazon.” Like Krohn, Brabec waits to buy books until after classes have started for courses outside her major.
Maura Wilkerson, a freshman psychology major, found some of her books at the Corinthian Co-Op, a ministry run by the Wheaton College Women’s Club, where students, staff, faculty and their immediate families can donate and select from a variety of household items at no cost.
While visiting the co-op, Wilkerson stumbled upon one of her required textbooks.
“I went down there, and I just happened to see one that I had just bought from the bookstore, so I got it.” No longer needing the new book, she returned it to the campus store. After another trip to the co-op, the same thing happened again.
Although Wilkerson scored a couple of free books, the costs were still piling up. “The amount I had to pay was definitely very shocking at first, but it was fine. I was expecting them to be pretty expensive.”
Charis Cumings, a junior music major with electives in biblical and theological studies, finds other ways of saving money when it comes to textbooks. She sometimes shares books with other students in her classes and borrows books from friends who have previously taken the course. She often checks the online bookseller ThriftBooks, where students around the country can find used textbooks.
“There is already enough that pay for. It can be stressful to look for each textbook on a whole long list of sources, but if it’s going to save me money, it’s worth it,” said Cumings.
Despite students’ alternative methods of obtaining books, the Wheaton College Campus Store has yet to see a dip in revenue. In 2019, the store underwent major structural changes as a result of new management coming in to take over operations.
Store manager Keith Schultz, who joined the staff in January 2020 shortly after the changes, reported that sales have been on the rise since the pandemic. “I would say this fall definitely has been the most significant business we’ve seen,” said Schultz.
Schultz understands student concerns about textbook prices. According to an email sent to all students on Aug. 22, the campus store will match prices from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other local booksellers.
“I want to save you guys the most money that I can,” said Schultz. He said students can show him competitive prices on their phones at checkout and he’ll try to match them as long as the book is in stock at the campus store. “In the end, we want to make sure that each student has their course materials, whether it’s from us or somewhere else.”