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The Price of University Text Books

While on vacation a few weeks ago, the wife and I visited our alma mater — University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Classes are in session, so we got to see the whole campus full of “kids” and activity. There was even a hippie playing guitar on the steps in front of the library. Classic.

The core of the campus is essentially just as we remember it from when we studied there in the early 90s, but it has grown out quite a bit. There are lots of new buildings. If I remember correctly, there were around 5,000 students during our days, but we learned there are almost 15,000 now. It doesn’t really feel more crowded, but then, there’s more area for everyone to spread out over now.

There are bicycles everywhere, and skateboards, in addition to the normal walkers. When Wifegrit and I were students there, we lived in [separate] apartments just off campus, within walking distance. We walked onto, off of, and all around campus to get to our classes. We walked all over again, during this visit. We went to our old buildings and peaked into some of our old classrooms. I remember the buildings being much bigger than how they seem now. I know that’s a feeling most people have when visiting places of their childhood, but this is a college — I’m the same size now that I was then. It shouldn’t feel any different in size. Odd.

Walking across the campus and through the buildings, I felt strangely young and old at the same time. There were moments I forgot I was about 25 years older than everyone around us. I felt like we were just a college couple walking around. But then my mood would change, and I could feel the quarter century of life experiences I’ve had since these kids’ ages. I saw a few college couples around, and could see how they acted very different compared to us with our 20+ years together. Young people still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase of their relationships, versus us as a mature couple very much used to and comfortable with each other. Everything I saw while on campus just made me smile.

One interesting place we visited while on campus was the university book store. Although it’s in a different location than it used to be, it looked very much like I remember it.

University Book Store

But I did find something crazy different: the book prices. Holy shit books are ridiculously expensive! I remember books were expensive when I had to buy them — like $20-$50 each. Wifegrit had some books for her nursing classes that cost $100 or more, but they were notoriously expensive. Now, though:

University Book Prices

University Book Prices

University Book Prices

Those first two examples above are from my degree, (English); $183 for a new book? And the junior year biology book: $279?! You can buy a TV for the price of these books. And note that the BIO book is just one of three needed for that class. I bought used books back in my day, when they were available, (and they weren’t always available), but even the used price is insane.

I just checked Amazon.com for these books:

  • Technical Communications (new) = $113
  • Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates (new) = $172

When I was going for a Computer Science degree, one of my professors literally wrote the class text book. He taught the class almost verbatim by the book — you could follow along with his every word in lecture, from the book. Had I known that at the time I had to purchase his book, I would have saved my money.

I would love to know how much money the text book publishing industry makes each year with their mandatory purchases from a captive audience that lines up to spend borrowed money on their education.

University Book Store


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