Amid rising textbook costs, some students just say no



College life comes with a full schedule and all too often an empty bank account.

As students gear up for each semester, finding funds to pay for tuition and textbooks isn’t easy. The average full-time student spends as much $900* annually on textbooks – that’s approximately 20% of university tuition averages, and as much as 50% of community college tuition averages!M/p>

The study
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released a survey earlier this month that suggests 70% of students have chosen not to buy a text for a class because the price was too high.

The survey reached 13 college campuses and more than 1900 students in the spring of this year. The results showed that textbook cost is not only a serious consideration for most college students, but an actual deciding factor in how they’ll approach the semester. Some advocates say these kinds of findings call for more affordable learning, while others say it’s just part of the package.

The publisher’s perspective
One school of thought to this grim scenario offers the notion that college is an investment. Spending a few thousand dollars on tuition only to forego a few hundred for textbooks is only hurting your investment, not helping it.

Another point: Inflation will continually drive costs up – of everything, not just college. The payoff for higher education is having a college degree that will help you earn a steady income so you can one day afford these costs and support your family.

While publishing is a for-profit industry, it is also a large and important sect of higher education. Publishers ensure that relevant content is available to teach. What good would a college education be if you were forced to use outdated learning materials?

The student’s stance
The flip side to this argument is a compelling one. As childish as it sounds, the prices are simply not fair.

Here’s why:

  1. Inflation will drive up costs; but textbooks are way ahead of the curve. The U.S. PIRG reports that average book prices have risen at a rate FOUR TIMES the national inflation rate since 1994 – and they’re still climbing. These costs cannot simply be chalked up to the times. From a student’s perspective, they are deliberate and unreasonable.
  2. Editions are being revised at unnecessarily high frequencies. An 18-month old College Algebra book shouldn’t be considered “outdated.” How much new algebra has been discovered in the last 18 months, I ask you? Yet, it is outdated, and students are forced to use new editions because teachers are expected to teach with them.
  3. Technology is being largely ignored by publishers. Open textbook formats and e-books keep production costs down, while still maintaining steady distributorship. What’s more, electronic and online materials can also reduce the need for bundled class materials like CD components and workbooks, another contributor to high book costs.  Yet the bandwagon sits empty.

Sound off
Publishers have a right to set their prices, and they’re in the business of making money. So on one hand, it’s not entirely reasonable or ethical to expect them to drop the bar. Moreover, they’re huge proponents of higher education. They are part of the machine, providing fuel, if you will, to keep it moving.

But on the other hand, there is the college student, who has a right to earn his education. If he can’t afford materials because they’re so far out of his reach, the publisher’s so-called “support” for higher education is exclusionary at best.

So where do you stand? Are textbook prices unreasonable and unfair, or is business just business?

*guest blog post by Lindsey