For some college students, textbook prices are a heavy weight that they can’t always afford. Potomac State College business student, Zoe Sypolt, stated she budgets $500-$1,000 for her text books each year. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the price of textbooks has risen from January 1977 to June 2015 by a 1,041 percent increase.
The chart above shows the increase of textbook prices from 1977 to 2015, based on information from BLS.
Impact on Students
Lesley Nester, a PSC freshman, typically uses her financial aid to pay for books but still explained, “it’s a lot of money for books I don’t use.” Payten Reese, PSC sophomore, finds himself in the same scenario. “It’s ridiculous, considering you don’t use them half the time,” said Reese. Alex Ritte, a PSC student, said she uses rentals and online option to try to “take down cost as much as possible.” Sarah Hutton, a nursing student at Allegany College of Maryland, stated she spent $1,500 for one semester of books, $500 for another semester, and $400 for her most recent books. All of these she said she only used “a couple of times.”
Online Course Materials
Some classes don’t require a traditional textbook but online access codes. These codes are typically used to do online homework and provide access to a digital copy of the textbook. These codes also provide extra resources like studying tools or help from tutors. The only downside to this option is the cost. According to The New York Times the average online textbook access code bundle costs $126.
Math professor Dr. Stephanie Beck Roth explains that the benefit of these codes outweighs the cost. Through the program Beck Roth uses, students perform mastery learning. Through this method of learning, students must repeatedly get questions correct before they can move on to the next section. Beck Roth stated that with this program she has seen an increase in test scores. She believes with this system of learning, students are understanding more material.
Beck Roth also sympathized with the struggle to buy expensive books as a young person. “I was a student in this situation, it wasn’t easy,” said Beck Roth. She recollects stressing to the point of tears over having to purchase a $300 textbook in her college days.
“I typically don’t purchase textbooks for classes,” said PSC student James Beall. Beall expressed his frustration in already having to pay heavy amounts in student loans. “It would be a different story if I were failing classes, because then it would just be irresponsible for me not to buy books. But anything I need to know that goes unanswered in class I can find on one of the many databases provided to students by West Virginia University Libraries or other scholarly sources.” Beall also explained that his primary professor, Nicklaus Goff, is so good at teaching, that his ample class notes enable him to succeed.
This situation isn’t uncommon for students, however. Based on a study by NBC news, 65% of students admitted that they skipped buying books– some because they couldn’t afford them.
Image from screenshot of video by NBC News.
What’s the Solution?
This epidemic hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. On Oct. 8, 2015, the Affordable College Textbook Act was presented to Congress. Within the bill it states, “more must be done to address rising costs.” It argues that with the rising price of books, opportunities for higher education diminish for some who can’t afford it. The goal of this bill is to expand the use of digital open textbooks to achieve savings for students. This would be made possible with educational grants.
Open textbooks are “high-quality college texts with an “open” copyright license allowing the material to be freely accessed, shared and adapted,” as defined by StudentPIRGS.org. WVU is now offering training to faculty on open textbooks.
Professors can also place their textbooks on reserve for students to use within the library. More than 70 courses have texts on reserve. One professor who makes most of her required textbooks available is English professor, Dr. Martha Johnson-Olin.
“I believe in providing my students with as many opportunities to succeed as possible,” said Johnson-Olin, “I worked my way through school, so I know what it is like to need two or three paychecks to buy a semester’s worth of textbooks. I want my students to know that they can succeed in my classes regardless of any financial struggles they may be experiencing.” Johnson-Olin stated that she makes sure her students know her books are available in the library, but they don’t always take advantage of it. “It depends on the student’s drive to succeed. I make the resources available to help, but it is a student’s choice to use the materials.”
Johnson-Olin also stated how she dislikes the rising textbook prices just as much as her students do. She attempts to provide open online access materials to help save money. “I have passed on excellent textbooks when I feel the cost is not reasonable for my students,” said Johnson-Olin.
Lastly, Johnson-Olin wishes that students understand a key aspect about textbooks: “Most teachers do not decide to use a book randomly or on a whim, and we build our courses carefully around the book(s) we ask students to purchase.” Johnson-Olin also explained that if students expect professors to be prepared for class, they should do their best to be prepared as well.
The rise in textbook prices is due to lack of competition in the textbook publishing industry. According to StudentPIRGS.org, only five publishers control 80 percent of the market. One of the most commonly known and wealthiest of these is McGraw-Hill Education. McGraw-Hill made a revenue of $2 billion in 2014 alone.
With this kind of industry, the average college student will spend approximately $655 on text books each year, based on information from The National Association of College Stores (NACS). But this price could be much higher with books costing as much as $300. The PSC website does not list an average cost for books per semester.