The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cheap, Cheap: Early Birds Get Science Texts

There’s a science to shopping for science textbooks, according to two plant biologists.

In a report for the Journal of College Science Teaching, two researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens set out to determine if the prices of college-level science textbooks fluctuate in a predictable pattern that coincides with the start and end of academic terms and whether students could save more money if they were able to buy books sooner.

The researchers, doctoral candidate Jeffery Cannon and Professor Peggy Brickman, cited data (including some from NACS) showing that students perform better on exams when they study assigned course materials but that cost is often a barrier to obtaining those materials. If the cost could be reduced, the pair reasoned, then more students would acquire more textbooks and potentially improve their learning.

Cannon and Brickman tracked 45 science titles required for 39 chemistry and biology courses at the University of Mississippi. Every one to two weeks for a full year, they checked the lowest prices and quantities of used copies for sale on Amazon.com. Occasionally, new copies were available for less than used, so those prices were recorded instead.

They found that prices peaked Sept. 9 for fall term and Jan. 13 for spring term. Prices bottomed out, on average, on June 10 and Dec. 2.

If students had purchased their texts at the low point, they could have saved 33% in the fall and 20% in the spring. “However, the only way for students to realize these savings is if students are aware of which textbooks are required for a given course before the end of the semester preceding the course—that is, during class registration,” concluded the report, titled “Helping Students Save: Assigning Textbooks Early Can Save Money and Enhance Learning.”

The pair then examined when biology and chemistry classes at UGA (as Mississippi’s course catalog was no longer available to them) provided textbook requirements. Only 42% listed requirements sufficiently early to enable students to take advantage of the lowest prices.

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