Education reporting

Students Save Tons by Renting Textbooks

With college classes back in session, the practice of renting textbooks is gaining popularity as students try to trim costs that are getting outrageous.

As a textbook author, let me say this idea does not thrill me, but as a bill-paying parent I see the attraction.

Chegg, BookRenter, CampusBookRentals and Skoobit all are sites that claim they can help students save a bundle.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said this is a hot campus trend:

” ‘It’s the biggest, hottest thing this year in college bookstores,’ said Frank Henninger, director of Villanova’s campus bookstore. Last year, his shop rented not a single book. This year, it’s renting 620 titles through a partnership with a national leader in the textbook rental business,

” ‘This groundswell of mass numbers of college bookstores renting books occurred like a rogue wave,’ he said.

“In just two years, the number of campus bookstores offering rentals has jumped from a few dozen to 1,500, according to the National Association of College Stores.

“Barnes & Noble, which operates 637 campus bookstores, including those at Temple, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Community College of Philadelphia, piloted six rental programs last fall. This year, more than 300 are renting textbooks, accounting for about 30 percent of sales on a given campus.

” ‘It has exploded. It really has,’ said Jade Roth, vice president of books and digital strategy for Barnes & Noble College Booksellers.

“Renting is among the cheapest of several options, Roth said, running down a typical cost breakdown. If your typical text costs $100 for a new edition, used will cost $75, an e-book — or digital version — $55, and a rental $45.”

Crain’s Cleveland Business found the rental market depends on the course and the availability of used books:

“At Cleveland State, results have been more of a mixed bag, said Keith McCann, director of the university’s bookstore. Purchasing, he said, still outweighs renting because of the flexibility it offers the students. There’s still a large demand to buy used books for the basic courses because there’s such a large, relatively inexpensive supply of the materials, McCann said. Still, he said his bookstore has 35 percent of its inventory available for rent.

” ‘Popular is a relative term, but people are choosing the option to rent,’ Mr. McCann said. ‘Most of the time they choose it because of budget reasons and sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes, even if it’s a book they want to keep, they’ll rent it.’

“David Cummings, Lorain County Community College’s director of auxiliary services, said the community college model is aimed at making higher education affordable and textbook rental programs fit nicely into the fold. The program still is in its pilot stage and only 12 titles are offered, but Mr. Cummings said it’s been a ‘huge success right off the bat’ and the available titles are ‘flying off the shelves.’ “

USA Today says that since 1994, prices of college textbooks have risen nearly four times faster than the inflation rate. Renting is a way to cut into rising costs:

“Typically, about 25 percent of the bookstores’ titles were available for rent. This fall, the stores expect to offer about 40 percent of titles for rent.

” I’ve had students come up and thank us for this,’ says Bill Coulter, bookstore director at the University of Texas-Arlington, where 6,000 students chose to rent last school year. ‘In my 44 years in this business, that never happened before.’

” ‘One student came up to the register and saved $300 … he was excited,’ says Lee Cobb, textbook manager at the University of North Florida’s bookstore.”

What is the one college textbook that you journalists have kept on your shelf since you’ve left school? My favorite was a big fat red media law book. It still is sitting on my shelf more than 30 years after class ended.

CORRECTION: This post erroneously stated the name of the publication that reported on the textbook rental business in northeast Ohio. The post has been updated with the correct name, Crain’s Cleveland Business. Read more


Teachers Spent $1.3 Billion of Own Money on School Supplies

The National School Supply & Equipment Association says teachers spent $1.33 billion dollars out of their own pockets in the 2009-2010 school year to equip their classrooms with everything from craft supplies to software and games.

The Journal, a magazine that covers campus technology, reports:

“The report, ‘The 2010 NSSEA Retail Market Awareness Study,’ was based on a survey of 308 K-12 teachers in May 2010 conducted by Perry Research Professionals. It revealed that teachers spent on average $356 of their own money on supplies and resources, including an average of $170 on supplies and $186 on instructional materials. (Instructional materials were defined as software and games, as well as paper-based teaching aids and other non-equipment teaching materials; supplies were defined as printer paper, arts and crafts supplies, pencils, glue, and other similar supplies.)

“Despite the total $1.33 billion out of pocket price tag for classroom materials, average individual teacher expenditures were actually down this year compared with previous studies: $395 in a 2007-2008 NSSEA study and $552 in a 2005-2006 NSSEA study.”

The story goes on to explain the reason behind the decline.

CNN Money profiles six teachers, who talk about what they used their own money for. One teacher says he spent $2,000 out of pocket.
Read more


Teachers unions blast LAT for publishing teacher effectiveness rankings

Los Angeles Times
United Teachers Los Angeles said in a statement that “it is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher’s effectiveness.” The union has planned a protest in front of the Times building on Sept. 14. Read more


Will College E-Textbooks Catch On?

On Friday, something sort of big happened. McGraw-Hill launched four of its biggest selling college textbooks in e-text form for the iPad, meaning you can download the whole book or just chapters. The e-reader version comes with interactive graphics and videos.

Digital textbooks are projected to account for just 1 percent of the higher education textbook market this year, according to The Wall Street Journal, but that would be twice as much as last year, and the future looks bright.

The Journal reports

“Prices will start at $2.99 per chapter and $69.99 for entire books, for a limited time. Thereafter, chapters will be $3.99 and books will start at $84.99.

“The Inkling-based e-books make full use of the iPad’s color, video and touch screen. A biology text, for example, offers 3-D views of molecules such as DNA, video lectures, and interactive quizzes. Users can highlight text, take notes and share them in real time with other users, such as fellow students. Along the way, students can jump outside the text to Google or Wikipedia.

“Inkling has struck deals with other large publishers, including John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Cengage Learning, to launch future titles.

“It’s unclear whether students and their parents will want to fork out $499 to buy an iPad on top of other college expenses. But [Inkling's Matt] MacInnis says that Inkling expects to see a ‘blossoming of touch-enabled tablets’ and that the affordability of those tablets will be broadened considerably over the next two years. ‘Our bet is that those tablets will change the way people consume content,’ he says.”

Sure, digital textbooks can keep you from carrying a bunch of heavy books, and they sometimes have great interactive features and easy-to-use search functions.

But are digital textbooks really cheaper? Digital Trends put the claim to the test and concluded that you don’t save much money:

“We signed up for Spanish, writing, philosophy, religion and political science courses. The total tab for all the books we could buy online from the SU [Syracuse University] bookstore with one click came to $368.45. This included a total of 15 titles, buying used books whenever possible.

“Then we went shopping on Amazon’s Kindle store. We had intended to compare the total cost of buying print versus digital, but the digital catalog was so incomplete we ended up comparing individual titles.

“When comparing brand new, hefty textbooks, an e-reader can save a bundle. For instance, Writing Analytically would cost us $66.50 brand new from the SU book store, but we could download an e-book version instantly for just $46.30 on the Kindle. Total savings from just one book: $20.20.

“Factor in the used-book market, and savings dwindle a little more. Let’s use Immigrant America: A Portrait as an example. It sells for $24.95 brand new from the Amazon store and the campus store. But the SU book store offered it to us used — automatically — for $18.75. Had we bought it for a Kindle, we could have scored it for $14.82 — savings of only $3.93 over the used paper copy.

“Even those small savings dissipate when you consider that most students will sell their books after a semester. “ Read more

Resources for Covering Ramadan

The monthlong observance of Ramadan has arrived. It is a month of fasting and prayer, charitable giving and personal reflection. It is a time when Muslims get up at dawn and cannot eat until sundown.

Muslims believe that Ramadan is the month in which Allah first revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Some schools make it possible for students to have a few minutes of prayer a day. Last year, ABC News interviewed high school kids about Ramadan. Some Muslim teens said they just go to the library at lunch. Others said they had non-Muslim friends who also fasted during the day in support.

Here is some helpful background:
  • Eid Ul-Fitr is the celebration at the end of Ramadan.
For an overview of Muslim history in America, provides a timeline, in two parts: (1) and (2).
Read more


New Study Looks at How Americans Pay for College

A new study by Sallie Mae and Gallup finds that despite the recession, families are still finding ways to send kids to college [PDF]:

“Parents funded 45 percent of the cost of their daughter’s or son’s college education, either  directly from their own resources (36% from income and other savings) or borrowing (9%). The second largest funding source was grants and scholarships which funded, on average, 25 percent of all college costs. Students paid for 24 percent of their education, either through borrowing (14%) or from their own income and savings (10%). In addition, friends and relatives helped with 6 percent of the costs.”

The Oregonian summarized the study, saying that families are more anxious about future costs than they used to be:

“A majority of parents said college is a worthy investment, but a higher number also worry that tuition will rise, scholarships and grants will shrink, the value of their investments and homes will decline and their children won’t be able to find jobs.

“Families reported they paid, on average, a total of $24,097, a 24 percent increase over the previous year.

“Actual college cost increases, however, have not been nearly that sharp. The College Board, which sponsors the SAT, reports an average 6.5 percent increase in tuition and 5.4 percent increase in room and board for public colleges and universities nationwide last year and a 6.2 percent increase in tuition for private colleges.

“The Board notes, however, that for 15 percent of full-time public college students, tuition climbed by 12 percent or more.”

Read more

Slow Economy Means More Children Home Alone

After a couple of young kids drowned while swimming unsupervised in Jacksonville, Fla., the state said it is seeing an uptick in the number of children who are left home alone as parents work two jobs and scramble to keep their lives together.  

I wonder if the “trend” can be proven somehow and whether it translates into juvenile problems, injuries or other trauma.

Are summer daycare facilities noticing any effect? Are kids who might have once participated in summer activities now home because parents can’t afford summer camps or care? How have city/country budgets affected summer pool hours or other activities where kids might have gone to keep busy and stay safe?

As you will see from this chart, a handful of states have guidelines but no rules about when it is OK to leave a kid alone.

Interestingly, the U.S. Census Bureau says higher-income families, not lower-income families, are most likely to have unsupervised kids. offers some additional resources:

“7 million of the nation’s 38 million children ages 5 to 14 are left home alone regularly. The data show:

  • “600,000 5- to 8-year-olds fend for themselves.
  • “3.4 million children are under the care of siblings
  • “The average time ‘home alone’ is 6 hours per week.
  • “Higher-income parents are more likely to leave kids unsupervised.”
  • added:

    “The Census Bureau found that 15% were home alone before school, 76% after school and 9% at night. Presumably, the 9% have parents who work night shifts.
    “One-half of all children in the country age 12 to 14 are home alone an average of seven hours a week. The very poor in America are less likely to leave their children alone at home, or allow them to go home alone, than families who earn twice the poverty income. This is probably because the very poor live in less safe neighborhoods, and have fewer friends or family who can step in, in case of emergency. In spite of the hours spent on the job, working mothers spend an average of five-and-a-half hours a day with their children. “ Read more

    Some Cities Questioning Value of Public Libraries

    WFLD-TV in Chicago addressed a question that deserves a deeper look: “Are libraries necessary, or a waste of tax money?” The station’s story looks at whether people need libraries when it’s so easy to just access books online.

    When I go to the library, I find lots of people using the computers but few actually walking the aisles to look at books. I suspect a tiny percentage of people know about the wealth of stuff a library card gives you access to online, such as magazine and newspaper archives. Some libraries, such as this one in Hennepin County, Minn., are trying e-book lending.

    How does your local library system match up to the ways people use and obtain information? Is your library system supported by benefactors? Does your community see libraries as an essential service or as a luxury?

    Libraries all over the country — in Montana, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin — are closing and cutting spending.

    Maybe it is telling that one of the recommended books on the Public Library Association’s website, which is aimed at librarians, is titled “Stress Less: Tame the Tensions in Your Life.”

    Check out the American Library Association’s website for additional resources. Read more


    Colleges & Universities Brace for Big Cuts in Work-Study Programs

    I have seen small mentions of this issue nationwide. Schools around the country say they will get significantly fewer work-study dollars starting this fall, meaning a lot of students will not have campus jobs. This issue is playing out nationwide.

    KPLU-FM in Washington reported:

    Fewer students who rely on work study to pay for college will receive the help next year. The state legislature cut funding for the financial aid program by more than 7 million dollars. The decision means that nearly 2600 low and moderate income students could lose their work study jobs. On average, that’s a more than $2,000 a year hit for the neediest students.

    The story quoted John Klacik, director of student financial assistance for the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board: “The only way to prevent the cuts it is to ask businesses to pay more for student employees. Typically, the state has subsidized between 65 and 80-percent of work study wages.”

    The Reading (Pa.) Eagle reported on a local community college that says a number of low-income students depend on work study to provide jobs.

    “The Reading Area Community College trustees,” the Eagle reported, “have learned that the annual state/federal allocation for the college’s work-study program has been cut by $160,000 for 2010-11.”

    In Johnson City, Tenn., federal work-study funding has been cut in half. The Johnson City Press reported:

    “A change in philosophy has reduced funding for federal work study positions at East Tennessee State University by half this upcoming school year, meaning less jobs will be available to provide reliable part-time work for students.”

    The story went on to explain that at one school, work-study funds have dropped from $1.5 million to $828,431:

    ” ‘It didn’t matter as much to a lot of schools because a lot of schools don’t use federal work study money, or don’t use it that much,’ ETSU Financial Aid Director Margaret Miller said.

    “ETSU is not like that, though, with 726 students participating in the program during 2009-10. Last year, ETSU students in the program earned about $1,100 each semester and worked about 10 hours per week at a campus department. The jobs are spread throughout the campus.

    ” ‘And the advantage, of course, for the students has always been their federal work study job works around their school,’ Miller said.”

    The paper said that the work-study funds are being replaced by Pell grants, which are outright awards that aren’t tied to work. In other words, rather than giving students an opportunity to hold a job and earn money, they will just get outright grants. Read more


    Boys Injured by ‘Sack Tapping’ Game

    If it were just an isolated incident, it would not matter as much. But “sack tapping,” or hitting or kicking someone in the testicles, is a YouTube attraction and is leaving serious injuries.

    Take this story from Minnesota for example, which quotes a local urologist saying he performs three to four surgeries a year on teens who have been injured in these so-called games. He sees dozens of such injuries in his office that do not require surgery. All in just one community.

    Late last year, WTHR-TV in Indianapolis took a deeper look at the rumors of widespread sack tapping (also called “ball tapping”). I appreciate that this station, which often proves to be thoughtful in its reporting, conducted a survey of school nurses to find out the extent of the phenomenon, rather than rely on anecdotal evidence. My friend and investigative reporter Bob Segall reported:

    “It’s a disturbing game with devastating consequences, and a new WTHR survey suggests it is rampant in Indiana schools [PDF].

    ” ‘Ball tapping’ is the act of intentionally hitting or kicking a male in the genitals. Earlier this month, an Eyewitness News investigation showed the game has become commonplace in some area schools, resulting in serious injuries for students.

    “As part of the investigation, WTHR also conducted a statewide survey of school nurses. The results are in, and they show the problem of ball tapping is more common and widespread than many school officials had realized.

    “School nurses from 163 Indiana schools participated in the anonymous survey, and 33% of those nurses said they’re aware of ball tapping happening at their school within the past twelve months.

    “But a closer look at the statistics shows the problem is much more serious in some schools than in others.

    “23% of school nurses who work at the elementary level say they’ve seen or heard of ball tapping at their school. That number nearly doubles in high schools, where 43% of school nurses say they’ve seen it.

    “And in middle schools, 62% of school nurses said they’re aware of students engaged in ball tapping.

    ” ‘I would have expected it to be a low number,’ said Mary Conway, president of the Indiana Association of School Nurses. ‘I would not have expected [school nurses] to have had much experience with it at all … because I think it’s something most kids won’t talk about with a nurse. I’m very surprised by this whole issue and it’s given me a new perspective.’

    “Among the 72 middle school and high school nurses who participated in WTHR’s survey, 50% said they had seen students who came to the school clinic seeking assistance related to an incident of ball tapping. Half of those nurses also reported they had observed the problem several (more than two) times each school year, and about 10% said it happens at their school on a daily or weekly basis.”

    A lawsuit involving sack tapping even ended up on the “Judge Judy” show. Read more


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