Why students are still spending so much on textbooks

Daily Briefing

Why students are still spending so much on textbooks

When students first arrive on campus, a common concern is the hundreds of dollars they’ll need to spend on textbooks and course materials.

Students and parent agree that the cost of textbooks is the number one higher-education obstacle, according to focus groups led by New America‘s Education Policy.

Their financial concerns are justified. Textbook prices have risen by more than 1,000% since 1977. Now, course books cost undergraduates more than $1,200 on average each year, according to the College Board.

New research may have found a major culprit behind rising textbook prices: books bundled with access codes, Kathy Kristof writes for CBS MoneyWatch. Access codes hide class materials like quizzes and flashcards behind a paywall and after the semester is over, students can no longer access that content, she writes.

Researchers at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) analyzed textbook prices for general education courses at 40 public and private two- and four-year colleges and found that approximately 4 in 10 courses required students to purchase textbooks bundled with access codes. Textbooks bundled with access codes are most prevalent in these introductory courses, says Kaitlyn Vitez, the study’s lead author.

 When textbooks and access codes are sold separately, students can save money by buying a used version of the textbook, Kristof writes.  

While publishers now offer bundle components individually, they aren’t required to sell the individual components at the campus bookstore, she adds. It can be difficult to find the individual components separately, which pushes most students to pay full price, Kristof writes.

High textbook prices can hurt students’ wallets and their academic success. When textbook prices are too high, many students won’t purchase them—a decision that can hurt their grades or even cause them to leave school.

Problems that might seem minor—like missing a textbook—can lead students to stop out

To combat these rising college textbook prices, some colleges and universities are turning to open-education resources, which reduce the cost to well below the national average, Kristof writes.

Greenfield Community College, for example, uses open-access texts in three of their required general education courses, which allows students to spend as little as $31 per course, rather than the national average of $153 per course, according to the study.

With open-access resources, students can avoid a paywall and access the material wherever they are in their professional or academic life, says Nicole Finkbeiner, an associate director at OpenStax (Kristof, MoneyWatch, 2/8; USPIRG report, accessed 2/8; USPIRG press release, accessed 2/8).

The world is going digital. College libraries should, too

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