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How Much Should We Really Be Paying For Textbooks?

This chart displays the lowest available prices to buy/rent some common Packer textbooks from two online retailers, Follett.com and Amazon.com. Follett is currently where parents are directed to for purchasing books.

Every year, Packer families pay hundreds of dollars more than is necessary for their textbooks. The school directs parents and students to one specific online retailer, Follett, to buy all of their required textbooks, making the process straightforward and easy– except for the fact that Follett’s markups are relatively exorbitant to the prices of other retailers.

While many students are aware that Follett is not the cheapest retailer of books, most students are blissfully unaware of just how much they are overpaying, because their parents simply buy the books as directed by Packer.

“Usually my dad goes onto the suggested site and buys it from there,” said Eli Isikoff (‘17). “We’re aware that it’s a little bit overpriced, but for us it’s just the most convenient thing to do.”

However, some students have to come to realize that there are cheaper alternatives, such as purchasing textbooks from other students or websites such as Amazon.com.

“The Packer website is a rip-off,” said Ned Ellis (‘17). “They ask for some textbooks that we never use. I think [Follett] is horrible- it’s so expensive, and even if you return them, it’s still a rip-off.”

Furthermore, some students claim that they did not even use the textbooks that they payed so much for.

“For Biology last year, we bought this expensive textbook, and- I am not being hyperbolic- I literally never opened it once,” said Paul McLaren (‘17).

The current system is also disadvantageous to families on financial aid, because while students’ financial aid packages encompass textbooks, parents must go to extraneous lengths to pay the discounted price they are supposed to receive. The parents must be able to cover the full prices of the books, and then fill out paperwork and present receipts in order to be reimbursed for what they are owed according to their financial aid package.

In addition, Follett would sometimes send a used copy in place of a new copy or send the wrong edition of a book. Frustration with Follett on all fronts prompted the English department to take on a vastly novel approach for the 2016-17 school year. For all students in grades five through twelve, the books are purchased by the department over the summer, charged to students’ accounts, and distributed by the teacher. This ensures that all students receive the correct books at the appropriate time, and makes the books cheaper by allowing the school to purchase directly from the manufacturer and cut out the middleman.

“It set up a situation in the classroom where they were ill-prepared to participate and teachers were quite frustrated, between Follett’s ineptitude and students not having what they needed, so this seemed like a really smart way to go,” said English Department Chair Elissa Krebs.

One key component of this program is that financial aid discounts are directly applied when families are charged, making it much more economically equitable. While this initiative is currently isolated to tone department, it could see expansion in the future.

“The issue with financial aid is much bigger with math and science textbooks, and some language textbooks,” said Upper School Librarian Andrew Parson. “Some of those books are $200, and right now, the families need to put the money out, then get reimbursed. [The English system] is helpful, but it isn’t actually the biggest expense families have when it comes to textbooks.”

“[The English system] sounds awesome, that makes sense,” said History teacher Ryan Carey. “I would love to be able to just hand the books out, and for financial aid, it makes sense that it extends to purchasing supplies.”

For the years to come, new Academic Dean Elizabeth Hastings and Mr. Parson are working to evaluate alternative modes of purchasing and distributing textbooks.

“One of the question that we ask is how much is the textbook used in the class, and is the cost warranted by how much it is used?” said Mr. Parson. “Should we really be asking families to buy $250 textbooks if they’re not used very much?” We are definitely going into this year looking to see if we are going to continue using Follett or if there is a better option.”

Co-Editor-In-Chief Ben Schneier is a senior who has been on the Prism for 3 years, previously serving as News & Features Editor and staff writer/graphic designer. Ben was one of the founders of the Prism website and loves both writing and leading the staff. In addition, Ben is a writer for local Manhattan newspaper Our Town.

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