Textbooks get cheaper, but some SF students are choosing food over books, study says

Eat dinner, or do the assigned reading?

Data and survey results suggest that may be a serious decision faced by some California college students – mostly in the California State University system, and especially at San Francisco State University – as textbook prices have come down in recent years, but not enough to offset high costs of living.

CSU recently published the “Study of Student Basic Needs,” the comprehensive version of which was released to the public this month and discussed Feb. 7-8 at a Sacramento State conference. The study contained data collected mostly in 2016.

Some of the most shocking stats were pointed out Wednesday by the S.F. Examiner: About 30 percent of SFSU students must choose between meals and required material for classes; two-thirds of students on campus are unable to afford textbooks.

Across all 23 CSU campuses, about 11 percent of students reported being homeless at some point in the preceding year as the cost of housing grows, from the Bay Area to Sacramento. And it’s not just the CSUs that are suffering – some UC Berkeley students are left sleeping on friends’ couches.

More than 41 percent of CSU students also reported food insecurity.

“Canned foods just don’t do it. Yesterday, all of a sudden I started with these tremors in my arms. Ugh, nutrition,” one SFSU student, identified only as “Bernard,” is quoted as saying in the study. Bernard has been homeless.

Food security concerns prompted Sacramento State to open a new food pantry in fall 2015, aided by the state’s CalFresh program.

The issues can be seen across the state but are particularly bad at SFSU, where the average annual textbook cost is $1,900 compared to the national average of around $1,200, according to the Examiner. SFSU saved just a total of $50,000 on textbooks in 2017 while CSU Fresno saved more than $300,000.

Material costs are dropping overall, though. The director of the system’s Affordable Learning Solutions program recently told KPCC in Southern California that CSU has saved students more than $36 million in the past year. And a 2016 online survey by the National Association of College Stores showed that the annual cost of course materials nationwide has dropped 17 percent since 2007, from $700 to about $580.

The Sacramento State conference came less than a month before the March 2 state deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).