The Cost of College Textbooks May Hinder Education, According to Recent Survey

National
Posted By Terri Williams on July 20, 2015 at 9:02 am
The Cost of College Textbooks May Hinder Education, According to Recent Survey

College textbooks are an integral part of the higher-education process. However, they’re becoming too expensive for many students to afford. In its 2013 report, the Government Accountability Office revealed  that the price of college textbooks increased by 82% from 2002 to 2012 – three times the rate of inflation. According to The College Board, just one book could cost $200, and the average college student spends roughly $1,200 a year buying books and supplies for their classes.

spending

Source: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

 

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), recently released a report, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” which details the dilemmas students face when they cannot afford to purchase textbooks. After surveying 2,039 students at 50 different college campuses, PIRG found:

  • 65% of students have decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive
stat1

Source: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Among the students who did not purchase a textbook:

  • 55% were significantly concerned that it would impact their grade in a course
  • 6% were somewhat concerned that it would impact their grade in a course
  • 4% were not concerned that it would impact their grade in a course

Nearly half of the students surveyed said the cost of their textbooks impacted how many and which classes they took each semester. The majority of surveyed students favored free, electronic textbooks:

  • 82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional
  • 17% of student felt they would do no better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional
  • 1% of students felt they would do somewhat better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional
stat2

Source: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Digital textbooks, used textbooks, and rental programs can help defray costs. The National Association of College Stores reports that over 3,000 schools have rental programs, compared to 300 schools in 2009.

However, PIRG found that even the price of used, rented, and digital textbooks is determined by several factors:

  • New editions: Every 3 to 4 years, publishers release new editions of textbooks, which generally cost 12% more than the existing edition. And when the next edition is issued, older editions are taken off the shelves to create room for the new versions. This forces students to buy the new, more expensive version, and also prohibits them from reselling the previous edition.
  • Costly bundling: Some textbooks also include bonus material that can only be accessed with Internet pass-codes. However, these codes are only available for a limited period of time. The pass-code is no longer valid by the time a student sells a book, which makes the used textbook less valuable.
  • Resale sabotage: Loose-leaf and custom editions of textbooks are more affordable up-front. However, because they have no resale value, they actually end up costing the student more money.

So – what’s the solution? PIRG recommends open textbooks, which are released under an open-source agreement that can be accessed digitally for free, printed at minimal cost, and customized by instructors. The University of Minnesota already has over 140 titles in its Open Textbook Library. For example, a traditional Calculus textbook is $224.95 for the print version, and $117.95 for the eBook. However, an open Calculus textbook is $22.91 for the print version, $0 for the eBook, and $0 for the online version.

According to PIRG, everyone can play a role in making open textbooks a reality. Students should actively advocate for open textbooks to be used in their classes, and faculty should consider adopting open textbooks. Campus administrators should consider creating an open textbook pilot program, and state and federal legislatures should invest in the creation and development of open textbooks. And publishers should develop new models that can produce high-quality, low-cost textbooks.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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