Taking Notes: Eye on Education – The High Cost Of University Textbooks

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

THE HIGH COST OF UNIVERSITY TEXTBOOKS

Last week, this column discussed the issue of students turning to pirated university texts in an effort to cope with high textbook costs. A California public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) has recently released a report entitled, “Rip Off 101.” In a 2003 survey of the most widely assigned textbooks in 10 public colleges and universities in California, researchers looked at some of the facts and figures and reasons why textbooks are getting even more expensive.

According to CALPIRG, students will spend an average of $898 per year on textbooks in 2003-04, an amount that represents almost 20 percent of tuition at the institutions surveyed, and an increase of about 40% over the past 7 years. Half of all textbooks are now bundled with additional instructional materials such as CD-ROMS or workbooks that drive up the price but are seldom used by faculty.

The release of frequent new editions is another method used to drive up prices. These new editions often have minimal or non-essential content changes. Seventy-six percent of the faculty surveyed reported that the new editions were not justified. New textbooks averaged about $100, which was 58% more expensive than the average used textbook – that is if you could even find a used textbook. Sixty percent of students reported being unable to find any used texts at all.

What was interesting about the report was that it suggested more and more students are turning to online book swaps, leading CALPIRG to state that online textbooks “hold promise for dramatically lowering the cost of textbooks”

The association concluded that the production and pricing of college textbooks is having a negative effect on the affordability of higher education. They identified the primary culprit in the rising costs as the continual production of new editions that, in spite of containing very little updated information, force older editions off the market.

CALPIRG (2004). Rip Off 101: How the current practices of the textbook industry drive up the cost of college textbooks. http://calpirg.org/CA.asp?id2=11987&id3=CA&

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