College textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977, according to a recent article from NBC News.
This means that prices have increased at a rate that is more than triple the overall rate of U.S. inflation.
Some believe that the reason for such incredibly high textbook prices stems from the fact that students are “captive customers.” They have no choice but to buy the books that are assigned to them, even if that means spending much more than they want or can even afford.
“Professors are not price-sensitive and they then assign and students have no say,” said Ariel Diaz, CEO of Boundless, a free and low-cost textbook publisher, in the NBC article.
However, it seems that students are perhaps not as “captive” as some people believe. Although prices have drastically increased, average spending on course materials is down.
Laura Massie, spokeswoman for the National Association of College Stores, believes this is because students have become “savvier shoppers,” who are renting books, buying used books and cheaper digital versions and finding better deals through other retailers.
“We have definitely seen a growing trend in the number of students opting to rent their textbooks,” said Jeff Sieber, an apparel buyer at Purdue’s University Book Store. “Because of the popularity, most of our textbooks are rentable excluding lab manuals, packages with access codes, workbooks and things of that nature. Renting textbooks certainly saves the students money therefore reducing the overall amount students are spending. We now also have a larger used textbook inventory because of all the returned rentals from the previous semester.”
Sieber agrees that college students should be careful shoppers.
“(Students) need to shop around and find the best price,” Sieber said. “If you go to our website now, we actually do have a comparison tool where students can actually compare our prices with other online vendors. It’s good to be transparent.”
ITaP’s Innovations in Technology and Learning team, in partnership with Purdue University Press, has started its own affordable textbooks program to help alleviate some of the cost of course materials for students.
According to the Purdue Libraries website, the program “provides funding and support (editing, graphics, etc.) to instructors interested in providing affordable, innovative eTexts or Open Educational Resources for Purdue students.”
George Hollich, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Purdue, is one of the instructors participating in this program during the upcoming fall semester. Through the resources provided to him by the program, he was able to write his own primer for his students in PSY 235, “Child Psychology.”
“They can get a printed book if they want or if they want they can get it on Kindle for $9,” said Hollich. “It costs 10 times less (than the textbook it’s replacing) and there’s only 100 pages instead of 500.”
Hollich believes there is a time and place for some textbooks. However, many don’t get used to their fullest extent because they don’t always match that well with what the instructor is teaching. The affordable textbook program allows instructors to include only information that is relevant to their class, instead of having students buy an expensive textbook that they’ll only read a few chapters of.
“(If you) require a very expensive textbook, you better better be sure that you’re using it,” said Hollich. “Textbooks are a substantial financial burden. (The affordable textbook program) is looking to try to bring that down a little bit and in the process make the text better match the class and be better suited to what students actually want and need.”