College bookstores make big profits

College Bookstores Cartoon by Kien Ha



By Brian Villalba


Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Thursday to launch a state program that will develop textbooks for 50 undergraduate courses.

The textbooks will be digital.  A faculty panel of nine members will manage everything from the resources involved to the content.

It took decisive action on the state level for any relief to come for college students in California.

The college districts and schools have proven impotent by opposing changes that would provide financial relief to already burdened students.

Both the California State Auditor and the Government Accountability Office have found that textbook manufacturers are increasing prices of textbooks, and that college bookstores are keeping their profit margins by passing cost increases onto students.

State auditors pointed out that textbook costs are increasing at a much greater rate than tuition and many times the rate of inflation.

When the bookstore keeps its profit margin with the higher prices, they become more profitable. This is good because it increases the revenue coming into the college, and bad because it is yet another financial burden dumped on the students.

The auditor also found that the profit margins are being kept for new textbooks and also for used ones. One college bookstore in particular, which was not named, contributed $100,000 to the overall budget of the college.

This school could not be East Los Angeles College because the school in question had an auxiliary food services department that operated at a $600,000 loss. ELAC does not even have a cafeteria.

The median household income of the immediate service area of ELAC is $35,965.  The increase in textbook prices has a greater impact on budgets that are tight to begin with.

The bookstore is meant to be an easy access, convenient source of textbooks. The new law will theoretically provide significant improvement in access to materials required for students.

The problem is that it could take a few years to fully implement the new book system. In the meantime, students are stuck with unnecessarily high prices for books that could be cheaper if the district and ELAC would stop using the bookstore as a profit center.

ELAC and the Los Angeles Community College District need to continue to provide higher education to an underserved community. If the bookstore didn’t profit from students then students would actually use the it.

Students will be served well and will have the resources they need. If ELAC and the LACCD can’t figure out how to make the bookstore efficient, then they should get rid of it and put that money toward assuring consistent progress in the construction of our student center and cafeteria.

One of the recommendations the state auditor made was to take advantage of the wide variety of digital resources that can provide low to no cost resources for students.

The California State University system in 2009 went so far as to plan to implement some of the suggestions. They cited that the greatest obstacle is faculty resistance to changes to a digital format from their preference of print textbooks.

Now that California law will provide relief to students with textbooks at little to no cost, it will be up to the faculty to embrace this new policy. The faculty council will determine the classes for which the digital textbooks will be produced and oversee their development.

If the faculties are to be the producers of the content to replace our current, overpriced textbooks, then they should use the new textbooks whenever possible.

Until the new digital textbooks arrive, we are at the mercy of the rapidly increasing book prices and we are protected by an impotent district.

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