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CALPIRG Education Fund and CALPIRG Students
Oakland Tribune
Katy Murphy

Despite new technologies and a 2012 California law promising college students relief from soaring textbook costs, students' bookstore spending is higher than ever -- now about $1,200 for books and supplies.

And a new survey shows that students are responding with a cost-cutting measure that could seriously hurt their grades: They're leaving the costly textbooks on the shelf. Two-thirds of college students surveyed said that they hadn't bought a required textbook at least once because it was too expensive, according to a national report released Monday by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a coalition of statewide student organizations.

UC Berkeley junior and integrated biology major Steven Ilko shops for textbooks at the student store in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. A survey

UC Berkeley junior and integrated biology major Steven Ilko shops for textbooks at the student store in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. A survey released by CALPIRG students at UC Berkeley shows that 65% of students have opted out of buying a college textbook due to its high price. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) (Kristopher Skinner)

"I had to borrow from friends sometimes," said Caroline O'Callahan, a UC Berkeley junior from Redwood City who didn't buy a biology textbook last semester that cost about $120. "It was tricky because I was relying on lectures and notes of my own."

Some professors use open-source material for their courses, but others select books that are regularly updated, making used copies hard to come by. College bookstores commonly offer rentals, but those prices can be steep: It costs $88.92 to rent a used physics textbook from the UC Berkeley campus bookstore and $185 to buy it new.

Between 2002 and 2012, textbook prices shot up 82 percent, nearly three times the rate of inflation, in part because of quizzes and other online applications often included, according to the federal Government Accountability Office.

A pair of open-access textbook laws by state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg -- Senate Bills 1052 and 1053 -- promised to help by making available faculty-approved online textbooks for 50 popular college courses, starting this academic year. But the project got off to a late start because of a funding delay, and students will have to wait at least until next January for the first books to hit the open-access library managed by the California State University system.

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