College students feeling the effects of soaring textbook costs

by Grace

Most college students are opting not to buy at least one textbook because of high costs, and many wait until class starts to see if they really need the book.  With book prices increasing almost three times the rate of inflation over the last four years, many students are having to spend $1,000 to $2,000 a year for all their class texts.

Seven out of 10 undergraduates surveyed at 13 college campuses said they had not purchased one or more textbooks because the cost was too high, according to a new survey released Thursday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group….

The survey, although not scientific, included 1,905 students from 13 college campuses, and found most of the students believed not having all their textbooks would adversely affect their grades….

U.S. PIRG, in collaboration with student chapters, have been conducting research for years on the high cost of college textbooks. Their survey found four out of five students said new editions had been a factor by preventing them from purchasing used copies, and half said bundles or custom editions for their campus caused them to encounter an increased cost.


Options to cut costs include renting e-books

“For years, a handful of powerful textbook publishers have monopolized the industry and driven up costs four times the rate of inflation,” said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs, last week in a release. “Better options are out there. Between used books, rental programs and long-term alternatives like open textbooks, we have the tools we need to make textbooks affordable for more students.”

Some student groups have joined  Textbook Rebellion.

TextbookRebellion.org is a movement of students, parents, professors and organizations inspired to take action against skyrocketing college textbook prices. Textbook publishing is broken. We’re making a difference by raising awareness of the problem and shining some light on emerging solutions, like open-license textbooks.

We enlist the support of students and campus associations, as well as parents, faculty, administrators, legislators, and creators of open educational resources.

Rising Costs Force Students To Skimp On Textbooks – HuffPost

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10 Responses to “College students feeling the effects of soaring textbook costs”

  1. This is one complaint that I am just not sympathetic to. Back in my day, tuition at BU was around $8000, and I paid typically about $500-800 a year for textbooks and supplies. Now tuition is around $40,000 at BU. Textbook costs have gone up much more slowly than tuition. Students probably spend more than that on beer in a given year.

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  2. Interesting . . . I just saw that over the last ten years book costs have risen at at higher rate than college tuition, about 6% annually vs under 5% for tuition. I think your books back then were unusually expensive, maybe typical for a STEM major.

    In any case, book prices are high and have increased more than the inflation rate, so I do sympathize with students.

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  3. Textbooks usually cost $30 to $50 in those days. If you had 4 to 5 courses, and some courses had more than one book, then the costs added up. In science classes, we usually had to pay lab fees as well. I can remember losing my $50 psych textbook my freshman year, and being very upset because I did not have that kind of money laying about for replacements.

    I just don’t have sympathy on this particular point. Textbooks are important. I can’t talk fast enough to lecture out all of the content in a computer science textbook. The students need to read to get all of the information. They need to learn to read technical material. I have a constant battle with students who won’t buy or read the book, complaining about the cost. I can point out that the book only costs $40 (typical for upper level course books, where we usually use trade books), and they still complain that they can’t afford it. Yet, these students will be carrying the nicest smartphones, often use a fancier laptop than their St John’s issued laptop, and have really nice clothes (and diamond earrings for the guys). They don’t blink at spending tons of money to go on our “party-in-Rome” junkets (aka study abroad). They can buy the darn textbook.

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  4. If the textbooks are important, then the students should get them. I hear stories about students buying expensive textbooks that their professors hardly use, but I imagine those cases are the exceptions.

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  5. “I hear stories about students buying expensive textbooks that their professors hardly use, but I imagine those cases are the exceptions.”

    A good look at the syllabus will clear that up.

    One really dumb excuse I’ve seen for not buying the textbook is, “but the professor is lecturing right out of the book!” To me, that would seem like a really good reason to buy the book, read the chapters, and spare yourself the pain of copying out the textbook during lectures.

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  6. I hear students making both claims. “I don’t need the textbook because the professor lectures from it” – in reality, the professor is hitting the key points in the book because he/she knows the students won’t read the book, so at least the key points can be crammed into their heads. Very often, though, there is far more explanation and important details in the book.

    For example, I have to pick and choose which examples from the book I will actually talk about in class because there is too much material to actually cover every last point. But it all hangs together. I have to assume that students will read the page that describes single last data type, because they will need it, and if I go through all of it in class, it will be very boring and we won’t have time for more conceptual material. Also, many students don’t “get” a concept or example when they first see me do it in class. They need to grapple with the concept. In computer science, the best way to do that is to take the example from the book, put it on the computer, read the explanation, and try things out. Then, they should reread the explanation again. It often takes 5 or 6 rereads to really understand some of the concepts. There are researchers in both computer science education and physics education who have been studying this – for example, Mark Guzdial just posted a study that found that physics students tend to have a WORSE understanding of a concept after seeing a demo in class one time. The students need to be spending time out of class grappling with the concepts, and reading the textbook is one way to do that.

    The other claim – “the book was never used” – can be dicier. Sometimes, a book is listed as required because of department politics, or because a committee chose the books 5 years ago and no one has ever changed them to be more appropriate. The new federal law that requires us to post textbooks months in advance is going to make this problem MUCH worse. I now have to choose a textbook in March for fall courses, even though I won’t be designing the course until the summer. The best remedy for that problem is to go to the first day of class and listen to the professor talk about the books before actually making the purchase. If there is some “chosen-by-the-committee” book on the list that the professor plans to ignore, he/she will usually mention it at that point.

    When I see a student blow thousands of dollars in tuition by flunking a course because he/she wouldn’t buy a $130 textbook, I am just flabbergasted.

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  7. “The students need to be spending time out of class grappling with the concepts, and reading the textbook is one way to do that.”

    Students overall are spending less time out of class studying; this is the new normal for them. I think many of them simply expect the prof to teach it all in class and that’s enough.

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  8. “The best remedy for that problem is to go to the first day of class and listen to the professor talk about the books before actually making the purchase. If there is some “chosen-by-the-committee” book on the list that the professor plans to ignore, he/she will usually mention it at that point.”

    Sounds like good advice, and now I might not bug my college kid to be sure to buy the book before classes start. OTOH, buying online to save money means that it may be the second week of classes before he gets the book, at which point he may be way behind in his reading.

    This stuff is not simple!

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  9. Well, if we are going to have to teach everything in class, with no studying outside of class, we are going to have to make our scheduled class time MUCH longer – probably double or triple the time – or else make the degree programs twice as long. In STEM fields, at least, there is the expectation that students will graduate understanding a certain amount of material, and able to DO particular things on their own without a teacher holding their hands. If we don’t produce students at that level, employers won’t hire our students. It takes time to learn the concepts and skills. If it takes X hours, say, to understand and work with basic data structures, we can have the students spend the X hours in an official class, much as we do in K12. Or we can have the students spend X/3 hours in class, with the remainder spent working on their own. The students probably learn it better on their own, but they probably feel “happier” and more “satisfied as customers” if they do it with a professor looming over them. Whatever. If we want to make college more like our stellarly excellent K12 system, we can do it that way.

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