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Chuck Kissel, director of Titan Shops, stands beside stacks of biology and algebra books available for rental. Titan Shops recently received a U.S. Department of Education grant that will underwrite a study on the barriers to launching a textbook rental program, as well as increase the number and variety of course materials available for students to rent. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Textbooks for Rent

Federal Funding Supports Program, Tests Barriers

December 1, 2009

By Pamela McLaren

The Titan Shops textbook rental has grown from just two books in 2005 to 40 titles today but Chuck Kissel wants to see that number multiply.

He admits that there appear to be three barriers to successfully launching — and growing — a rental program: capital funding, uncertainty with return on investment and faculty commitment to using a text for a set number of of semesters.

That, however, may change.

Students peruse the stacks of textbooks that Titan Shops offers for rent.

Kissel, director of Titan Shops, has received a $300,000 U.S. Department of Education grant that will provide the means to explore the barrier of faculty commitment while providing more students with the option to rent textbooks that might not otherwise have been available.

“The price of textbooks has gained national attention,” said Kissel, who remembers his days as a business administration undergraduate on campus. “These days, its not a matter of whether you keep your textbooks after the class, it’s the struggle to purchase books at all — new or used that we see at Titan Shops.

“There is a desperate need for an effective, long-term solution to provide course material to students. Our rental program was in response to the increasing costs to students. With the current economic state of California and the recent increases in student fees, more students than ever before are looking for classes in which rental books are available,” Kissel stressed, noting that Titan Shops has heard that students are looking at the available rental titles before registering for courses.

“If we’re successful in removing any of these barriers, especially the commitment from faculty members using a certain book for two years (other universities seek commitments of three to five years), it will enable more bookstores to be able to offer rental programs on their campuses,” said Kissel.

Kissel believes that bookstores can offer textbooks for rent without the faculty commitment but it will cost students more. Part of the research is to find out at what point a student decides against renting a textbook.

Currently, students can save 25 percent (as their parents and grandparents did) by selecting used instead of new textbooks, Kissel noted. “They can save 45 percent by selecting a textbook in digital format — something we also offer when available — but if students rent textbooks, they can save up to 65 percent of the cost of a new book!”

Most textbook titles that are available for rental are required for lower-division general education courses — classes in which the material doesn’t change radically in a short period of time, unlike many technical and scientific fields — and some upper-division business courses, said Kissel.

The federal grant will underwrite a two-year study on the viability of providing textbooks without the faculty commitment to a set period of time. It also will fund increasing the number of titles offered for rental — increasing the number available for rent and across the broader spectrum of courses being taught, including elective and other upper-division courses.

Titan Shops will be testing the criteria used in deciding to offer a rental program and whether it is necessary to have faculty commitment for a period of time and still make a return on the bookstore's investment.

That information will be shared with other university bookstores. Updates on the study will be posted to a specially created web page within the Titan Shops website.

According to Titan Shops, the infusion of the U.S. Department of Education funding will add 3,000 textbooks to the rental program, accommodating approximately 12,000 students who will achieve savings of about $220,000. The investment also will generate an estimated $120,000 in textbook rental income that would be reinvested back into the rental program and provide an estimated 1,500 more textbooks, accommodating 6,000 more students and producing an additional $100,000 in student savings.

“Our intention,” Kissel said, “is to reach as many students and faculty as possible in an effort to service and educate them about the benefits of the program. The goal is to include all departments and as many classes as possible to ensure that all the textbooks purchased with the grant money are rented every term, thus maximizing the number of students benefiting and saving.”

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