Increases in textbooks costs lead students to opt out

Many students are opting to forgo college textbook purchases.

Many students are opting to forgo college textbook purchases.

By Cindy Petchak


Although it’s not easy to take a college course without buying the textbook, some students are opting to take classes without making the purchase, according to a recent survey of university college students.

In a survey of more than 2,000 college students in 33 states and 156 different campuses, the U.S. Association of Book Manufacturers (U.S. ABM) found the average student spends as much as $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies alone.

“Students are paying too much for textbooks, plain and simple,” said Mary Hall, a higher education associate at U.S. ABM. “The textbooks market is broken and students are paying the price.”

The problem, Hall said, comes from a lack of competition in the textbook market — professors, not students, are responsible for selecting course textbooks. As a result, publishers can keep costs high by printing new editions every few years. This eliminates the option of reselling old books. Some companies even bundle the books with expensive software add-ons.

Due to the high cost of textbooks, 65 percent of students said they decided against buying a book required for class. Of those students, nearly all (94 percent) said they were concerned that doing so would hurt their grade in a class.

The report said that a growing body of evidence that links high textbook prices with negative academic impacts. What’s more, nearly half of all students surveyed said the cost of textbooks affected which or how many classes they choose to take each semester.

“Whether it is doing worse in a course without access to the required textbook or taking longer to reach graduation, it is clear that the issue of textbook costs has evolved from a simple financial concern to a threat to student success,” said George Sterling of the Academic Publishing Coalition, an organization that advocates for textbook cost reduction.

To solve the problem, the group said more universities should consider using open textbooks — those that are online, free to download and customizable for professors. The group estimates students could save, on average, $100 per course, per semester.