3 ways college textbook costs are impacting students and professors right now

Most people agree that college textbooks are too expensive. Endless editorials have examined how to bring down the costs of these learning materials. A proliferation of “how to” pieces have advised students on how cheaper ways to get the textbooks they need.

Unfortunately, a study our team just completed on college textbook prices during the fall 2018 semester confirms that students are still paying exorbitant amounts of money for their learning materials.

We sought to add to the existing body of research on college textbook prices with a snapshot of how much students paid for college textbooks during the fall 2018 semester specifically, and how college textbook prices impacted their learning experiences. The 334 undergraduate students we surveyed between October 9-12, 2018 provided a fascinating look at the ways textbook costs affected students and professors. Here are the three biggest takeaways:

Students need to come up with a lot of money for their learning materials Respondents to our survey reported spending $403 on average for textbooks for the fall 2018 semester. 24 percent of respondents paid less than $250, 55 percent paid between $250 and $600, and 21 percent paid more than $600.

These figures alone are extremely high. Publishers are capable of selling their textbooks at under $50 dollars while remaining profitable, which would bring the total cost of textbooks to under $200 for four classes. Unfortunately, our survey showed that many students are paying far more for learning materials than just the $403 on the textbooks themselves.

One of these additional costs is for student loans. When asked how they paid for their textbooks, 15 percent of respondents reported using student loan money. For the 21 percent students who spent more than $600 on textbooks, 25 percent reported using student loan money for payment. In an era of rising interest rates and crushing student loan debt, it’s troubling to see a significant percentage of students borrowing money to pay for their textbooks.

Second, nearly half of the students who responded to our survey (47 percent) reported having to pay for access to a homework system, in addition to their textbooks. When you consider that many professors still simply print homework assignments, it’s surprising to see that half of respondents still had to pay for a homework system in addition to their textbooks

Textbook prices affect what classes students choose to take
For the 2017-2018 school year, tuition for the least expensive type of four-year university—in-state students going to public universities—was $9,970 according to The College Board. Tuition for out-of-state students going to public universities was $25,620, and the cost of a four-year private college averaged $34,740. While the College Board hasn’t released numbers for the 2018-2019 school year yet, the minimum cost of attending any school full time for a year has very likely reached $10,000.

Keeping the cost of tuition in mind, it’s unconscionable that some students invest such large sums in higher education only to have learning decisions affected by the cost of college textbooks. 33% of our respondents reported that textbook prices have impacted their decision on whether to take a particular class.

Professors’ ratings suffer when they assign expensive textbooks
When students decide to take a class with an expensive textbook, they can voice their displeasure in the form of negative professor ratings. For textbooks priced between $100 and $200, more than half of respondents (55 percent) reported that the textbook price has a negative effect on how they rate professors.

Unsurprisingly, as the cost of the textbook increased, so did the students’ displeasure. For textbooks priced above $200, more than 70 percent of respondents reported that the textbook price has a negative effect on how they rate professors.

Conversely, students recognize and reward professors who are consciously working to address affordability of learning materials for their students by adopting lower priced textbooks. For textbooks that cost less than $30, more than 50 percent of respondents reported that the textbook price has a positive effect on how they rate their professors.

My hope is that this study plays a small role in encouraging professors, students, and the general public to continue to demand more affordable learning materials. Students already have plenty of financial worries in college without having to fret over whether they’ll be able to take a class, or have to take out another loan, because of an over-priced textbook.

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