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Textbook Rebels with a Cause

On top of rising tuition and in some cases extra fees, college students across the nation must also contend with the high cost of textbooks. According to an analysis by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the cost of college textbooks has risen at four times the rate of inflation over the past four years. Forming The Textbook Rebellion, PIRGs have in rather unique fashion taken their campaign for affordable textbooks on the road.

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By Harrison Howe

Fighting the Good Fight...Literally

In this corner, wearing a black outfit and top hat and weighing in at $200: Mr. $200 Textbook, enemy of cash-strapped college students everywhere. And in the opposite corner, clad in yellow, wearing a red mask and cape and looking like a first cousin of Spongebob Squarepants: Textbook Rebel, champion for lower-cost textbooks. And the fight begins.

Actually, the fight officially began on August 31, 2011 at the University of Maryland's College Park Campus, and it's one that will be carried to 40 campuses in 14 states throughout the fall as The Textbook Rebellion embarks on its tour. Other colleges and universities that have or are slated to witness the epic battle between the black and yellow mascots include Rutgers University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona State University, UCLA, Boston College and several University of California and UMASS campuses. The tour will end on October 7th at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Along the way, The Textbook Rebellion has picked up and hopes to continue gathering influential supporters. On August 31st, the U.S. Department of Education's Senior Policy Advisor Hal Plotkin joined the cause. Student PIRGs, which are a group of independent student advocacy organizations speaking out against the high cost of textbooks and other public interest issues, also have support from the Obama administration.

In addition to the tour, The Textbook Rebellion has set up an online petition on its website, www.textbookrebellion.org, where students can add their signatures in protest of high-priced textbooks. The petition will be used to 'get the word out to faculty and call on decision makers to take action,' Student PIRGs textbook advocate Nicole Allen told The New York Times in August.

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Offering Affordable Alternatives

With the latest statistics from the College Board indicating that students during the 2010-11 year would spend more than $1,100 on supplies and books, and a recent survey showing that as many as 70% of students polled did not buy all the books required for their classes simply because they cost too much, Student PIRGs decided this past summer to take action. The group feels it is time to educate students about viable and affordable alternatives to 'the $200 textbook' (a price not unheard-of for some books in, among other subjects, science, economics or math).

Renting Kindle textbooks is one option supported by Student PIRGs. Another option is the use of open textbooks, which can be read free after being downloaded to a phone or computer, or purchased as print copies for $20 to $40 (Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of open books, has also joined the rebellion).

Purchasing individual chapters of electronic textbooks is also advocated by Student PIRGs. In addition, the Student PIRGs website, www.studentpirgs.org, provides links to sites where students can purchase used textbooks, rent books, compare prices or swap with other students. Finally, the site provides tips on how students can get cheap or even free textbooks.

Be a Rebel

Among other findings that Student PIRGs are speaking out against include publishers putting out higher-priced editions every few years even if the material remains virtually unchanged; adding CDs and other generally unwanted or even unneeded items that drive up costs; and the issue of custom books, which makes shopping for used editions difficult if not impossible.

With all that to be spoken out against, Student PIRGs hope that The Textbook Rebellion tour currently underway will be heard at the highest levels of academia. In addition, group officials are aiming to collect 10,000 signatures within the next few weeks; so far more than 2,500 signatures have been collected on the online petition.

So, if you're a college student and you're as fed up as Student PIRGs about the astronomical cost of your textbooks, log on and add your name. And if you attend one of the 40 schools on The Textbook Rebellion tour, keep your eyes and ears open. You just might hear them arrive on campus and witness Mr. $200 Textbook and Textbook Rebel going head-to-head once again. It's likely that you'll join other students in hoping that the Rebel can deliver a one-punch knockout to his high-priced adversary and ultimately make textbooks affordable for everyone.

Education Insider asks: Should professors be able to assign their own textbooks? The exorbitant cost of textbooks is taken into consideration when it comes to professors requiring their own books for class.

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