Editor’s note: The high price of college textbooks has long been a sore spot for students. Even though the price is reportedly down 26% since January 2017, the first decline in years, the general trend in recent years has been a steady incline. amie freeman, librarian at the university of south carolina, explains the forces behind pricing.
1. how much do students spend on textbooks these days?
The National Association of College Stores reports that students spent an average of $415 each on required course materials during the 2018-2019 school year. the college board says students should budget $1,240 a year for books and supplies.
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Several factors make course materials so expensive. First, there is not a lot of competition in the textbook industry. just five publishers control around 80% of the textbook market, with two of them announcing plans in May 2019 to merge in early 2020. Second, students have little choice in the materials they buy, as that content is usually assigned by teachers.
2. How do high prices affect students?
High costs of textbooks have negative effects on students. many students report that they do not purchase required texts, take fewer courses, or even get a low grade as a result of not having a required text. For example, a 2018 survey of students at public colleges and universities in Florida found that the high cost of textbooks had led 64.2% of students not to purchase a required textbook and 42.8% to take fewer courses. . in addition, 35.6% said that the high cost of textbooks caused them to get a bad grade and 22.9% said that it caused them to drop out of a course.
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The cost of textbooks can also cause students to rack up more student debt if they rely on financial aid to pay for course materials.
3. what are open educational resources?
Colleges and universities have been active in promoting and developing affordable textbooks, including open educational resources, more commonly known as oers. open educational resources are educational materials, often in digital form, that are offered freely and openly for anyone to use.
using oer has saved students around the world more than a billion dollars, with the vast majority of those savings reaped by students in the united states and canada. Research has shown that students using OER perform as well as or better than students using traditional course materials, with even better results for students with less financial security.
4. Are there any drawbacks in opening educational resources?
Two of the most common complaints about oer are that there isn’t a text available for every topic and that the assignments and other materials that accompany oer aren’t as well developed as commercial offerings. the good news is that both disadvantages are being addressed. grants and funding enable the ongoing creation of a broader base of customizable open textbooks and ancillary resources.
Faculty members also express concern about the quality of the offering. the quality of the offerings can vary, but many are written by experts and have teacher reviews available to help instructors select materials that suit their needs.
5. what else are schools doing to cut costs?
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Some college libraries loan textbooks or provide electronic resources to students for free. One of the biggest efforts going on right now is known as “inclusive access.” this is an arrangement where universities provide students with discounted digital access to course content on the first day of class upon billing the student.
Some colleges work with publishers or bookstores to offer students digital textbook subscriptions. Through these subscriptions, a student pays a subscription fee that gives her access to all the materials she might need from a particular publisher for a semester or a year. if a student is assigned several textbooks from this publisher, it may be worth it. however, it would probably not be a good deal if a student is assigned only one or two texts from this publisher.
6. Will physical textbooks become obsolete?
The conversation between digital and print is ongoing, but I think there will always be students who are more capable of understanding print than digital. it is clear that publishers are moving more towards digital offerings, but it is unlikely that students will be able to print these materials or purchase a hard copy without additional costs. offer licenses, on the other hand, generally allow students to print as much content as they want, which is beneficial for students who don’t learn as well from digital texts.
7. what can students do to reduce costs?
If a student’s assigned materials are not automatically charged to their tuition, the student can search both online and in-store to find the best rate. Some students look at one of the many cost comparison sites, such as TextSurf, available online. A student might also consider a digital or physical rental if the student does not plan to use the material after the course ends. If the college or university offers access to textbooks through the library, that’s a great place to save money. Most students who do not purchase course materials fear that their grade will be negatively affected, so it is essential that these savings opportunities, along with the open textbook option, be made available to students.
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