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Tuition Talk: The Rising Cost of Textbooks

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Tuition Talk: where we vent our frustrations with the so-called “higher education bubble.” Raising questions such as “why do college presidents make so much money when students are struggling and in debt?” and “is college even really worth it anymore?” Check back every Tuesday and Thursday for more!


Did you know that college textbook costs have risen 812 percent since 1978?

Yeah, we know. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s no fun to walk into the school bookstore and purchase a $200 Chemistry textbook. And it’s even less fun knowing your parents payed 812% less for them than you do now.

As it turns out, textbooks have increased in price even more than healthcare and the cost of buying a new home. What? This chart from the American Enterprise Institute says it all:

American Enterprise Institute Textbook Inflation Graph

(image via)

So what is the deal with the textbook inflation?

Well, according to The Atlantic

 Academic Publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But as Kevin Carey noted in a recent Slate piece, the industry also shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending.

We know that, especially in this economy, everything costs more money to produce. But does that mean it’s fair that some students pay nearly $1,000 a year (or even a semester) for books that they’ll use maybe a few times in a period of 3 months? The piece goes on to explain:

Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they’ll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost. Students, like patients worried about their health, don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades…

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a professor assign you a book because A) there was one chapter in it that was relevant to one quiz on information you never saw again (not even on the final!) B) They wrote it and explained “Nobody else has looked at it from this point of view before” or C) It served as a reference to help you understand one of the books from option A or B. (Now raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Regina George – sorry, we had to go there!) But, in all seriousness, the point The Atlantic makes here is great – students feel forced into buying ridiculously overpriced textbooks for fear of losing a letter grade just because their professor said “don’t buy the old edition because it’s missing important information!”

But honestly, we don’t think it’s really the professors’ faults. We just think they could do a better job of helping to fix the problem in the first place. (And, in many cases, they do understand your textbook plights and will scan the material you need and assign you PDF versions online.) The vast majority of professors teach because it’s what they’re passionate about, and they’re just trying to give you the best education they can for the incredibly short amount of time you’re in their classroom. They’re not actually trying to make you go broke.

The Blame Game

The real problem, The Atlantic notes, is that “publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing a low-cost textbook start-ups over flimsy copyright claims.”

Ahh, the “old edition” debate. Like we said before, professors often push the newest edition of books. But that’s probably just because the publishing companies push the newest editions, because, well, it’s their job. We get it, but that doesn’t make things any easier on college students!

You can somewhat offset the cost of your textbooks by buying them used or renting them, but the difference isn’t that big. Need proof? The Atlantic says:

“the average college student reports paying about $655 for textbooks and supplies annually, down a bit from $702 four years ago. The National Association of College Stores credits that fall to its efforts to promote used books along with programs that let students rent rather than buy their texts.”

Think about it. $655 per year times four years (or maybe more)? That means the average college student spends nearly $3,000 in textbooks by the time they graduate, if they graduate on time and if they’re in the “average” cost range. When you’re already spending tens of thousands of dollars just to go to college, that’s a huge chunk of change to just add on to your already ever-expanding bill.

Speaking of which, don’t even get us started on student loans…

What is your take on the great textbooks debate? Tell us in the comments!


(Article source) / Featured photo credit: flickr./com/photos/amanda_munoz via photopin cc




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8 COMMENTS

  1. If students find themselves stuck with textbooks that their campus bookstore doesn’t want to buy back because the professor is moving to a newer edition, they should consider selling them online. There will surely be a set of college campuses where the textbook is still used. I’ve written about this and other textbook buying and selling issues in the article at the bottom of this page

  2. Great article, Brittney! (And I see what you did there, Mean Girls reference!)

    My business school did something that dramatically brought down the costs: they compiled chapters and cases from all the sources into a coursepack that you could buy from the store. This saved on hundreds upon hundreds of unread pages, and we saved a ton of money b/c we only had to buy one coursepack.

    It also helped that 4 of my classmates and I would always get together and illegally make copies of the coursepack so we would split the costs further down into quarters…

    Unfortunately, this only put a bandaid on the ridiculous costs of NYU. Sigh.

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