A New Study Looks at the High Cost of College Textbooks

Jan 29, 2014

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Nearly half of all college students surveyed said the cost of textbooks impacted their choice of classes.
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The price of college textbooks has increased 82 percent over the past decade, according to a new study that looks at alternatives to the traditional college textbook.

ConnPIRG is urging schools and professors to consider open textbooks.

Expensive textbooks are nothing new. It seems that writing a hefty check to the college bookstore before the semester starts is part of the collective college experience.

Jayne Ashley, a journalism graduate student at Quinnipiac University, said, "I always went to the bookstores for the first couple of semesters, because I didn't realize there was a different avenue to be able to purchase books." She now goes to Amazon.com to buy her textbooks.

Jayne got lucky this semester: she only had to buy one book. Still, she said, "On top of financial aid, work study, and internships, it's expensive to buy books on top of tuition and fees."

According to Abe Scarr, director of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, or ConnPIRG, there's a reason why textbooks are so expensive. He said, "Because it's not that classic market with good supply and demand, and competition, it's allowed the publishing industry to do things over the years to artificially inflate the price of books."

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group interviewed 2,029 college students from 150 universities about textbooks, and picture is pretty grim. Sixty-five percent of students surveyed said that at some point in their college career, they decided against buying a textbook, because it was too expensive. Nearly half of the students said the cost of textbooks impacted how many and which classes they were going to take each semester.

ConnPIRG is urging schools and professors to consider open textbooks -- books that can be accessed online for little or no money. "They're often written by professors. They cover the same academic content, but they have a more flexible copyright," Scarr said. "They can be reproduced more easily. Students using open textbooks can save up to 100 dollars per class."

The survey showed that 82 percent of students felt they would do better in a class if the textbook were available online. Abe Scarr said that ConnPIRG already has promises from over 100 faculty members at UConn to use open license textbooks whenever available and appropriate.