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Why Do College Textbook Costs Keep Climbing?

The average college textbook costs a student $84.14. Students buy an average of 5.8 textbooks per semester. That averages $488 per semester or just under $1,000 per academic year.

These are the results of an annual survey for

Some Cost Even More

In disciplines such as biology and chemistry, one textbook can exceed $200. In the 1980s, those textbooks were just as thick and colorful and usually cost $40–$60. Since the cost of paper and printing has actually gone down, why has the cost soared?

Students Pay the Bill

One problem is that market forces are not at work. It is the professor that the textbook company has to charm and the students who have to pay.

Some professors do not consider the cost of their textbook in their decision.

And with digital bells-and-whistles added over these last 20 years, it’s ironic that the exorbitant cost of a textbook today is due not to printing, but to the many electronic ancillaries companies tout to professors.

Quasi-Learning to Blame?

Many of today’s textbooks—especially general education books used by high numbers of students across the nation—offer online tutoring, online practice quizzes, the actual quizzes with grading, and even total testing.

More Online Offerings

This is in addition to ready-made PowerPoint presentations and short video clips that can be downloaded from the textbook company’s website.

To a professor at a big research university who is burdened with teaching a large section of 300 or more students (but really wants to spend all his time doing research), the textbook company has the perfect answer.

The company provides the canned lessons and testing and the students pay for these digital extras through the required textbook that now costs four times more than it should.

Need to Cut Corners

With the average college student taking 5½ years to complete a bachelor’s degree—primarily because 60– 70% of students change majors at least once—the average cost of college textbooks can approach $5,000.

Since rising tuition is beyond their control, more and more students are cutting corners on textbooks.

Talk About Depreciation

According to, the average textbook depreciates 40% the first semester and 60% after two semesters. Textbook companies often produce new editions every two years, based on unnecessary and trivial changes. This drops the sell-back value of the prior edition to zero.

Access Code Required

Editor’s note: Many of today’s college textbooks include a license access code that is required to unlock the accompanying online materials.

This license key expires at the end of the semester, necessitating the purchase of a new book and reducing the resale value of last semester’s textbook to zero, even if there have been no changes in the book.

New or Used

The survey revealed that 25% of students buy new and 67% buy used textbooks. This leaves some students who go without a textbook, often attempting to find the content online.

Today, 55% rent new or used books. Freshmen tend to buy new books, while seniors increasingly rent their books. In the freshman year, textbook costs average $572 per semester, dropping to $421 in the senior year.

Digital Media a Bad Choice

eTexts have been a massive failure in students’ eyes. Although the computer-industrial complex keeps hyping digital media, students began turning away from electronics to paper well before 2014. This new survey conducted by Campbell Rinker for sampled American college students from May 5–10, 2016.

Print Preferred

The number of students who owned a laptop dropped 8% from 2014. E-reader use was down 22%. This confirms earlier surveys in 2014 that found that 80% of students preferred print to screen.

Difference Makers

The solution to the exorbitant textbook scam lies squarely in the hands of professors.

There are new “publishers” appearing who will provide very inexpensive textbooks that can be downloaded cheaply or bought at minimal cost, printed ondemand.

As the cost of higher education in public institutions skyrockets, this is one place where professors sensitive to the economic plight of students can make a difference.

Thanks to Dr. John Richard Schrock of Emporia State University for keeping us up-to-date on this important subject.

Labor Day

Copresco will be closed Monday, September 4 for Labor Day. Enjoy the last holiday of the summer with your family and friends.