It’s time to buy books for next semester! College students reach deeper into their pockets each year to foot the bill for textbooks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics made us aware of the rising cost of college textbooks: the prices have risen 1,041% since 1977. Even factoring in inflation, the sale of used books, and non-market transactions, it’s a huge number.

How Much Do College Textbooks Cost?

According to the most recent survey from the College Board:

  • The average full-time on-campus undergraduate student at a four-year university spent approximately $1,240 on books and supplies in 2021.
  • Students of two-year colleges spent $1,420.
  • Students at private four-year colleges—$1,220.
Source: College Board

This averages to $450-$625 per semester for books and supplies for an average student. Not a trifling amount.

The most recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has shown that 66% of students tend to skip buying or renting course materials altogether in college, with 63% skipping textbook purchasing specifically because of the high cost of textbooks. The previous 2014 report’s data was not much different: 65% of students admitted skipping textbook purchasing then, so the tendency remains.

How Much Do Online Textbooks Cost?

All in all, online textbooks are more affordable than expensive college textbooks. Sometimes students can acquire digital textbook copies 40-50% cheaper than physical copies; however, taking into consideration the overall college textbook prices, you don’t save that much. Besides, many students prefer physical copies. Alternatively, you can find a number of web resources with free textbooks that are available for students online under an open license.

Reasons for The Increase in The Cost of College Textbooks

Short Usage Cycle Contribute to the Increase in Cost of College Textbooks

In recent years, publishers have issued textbooks in a two-to-four-year cycle. Basically, your used books are losing value quickly, and you’re more likely to drop money on a new one.

Professors Disregard The Rising Cost of Textbooks

Professors often disregard already high textbook prices when assigning the latest versions of course materials. The updated versions feature small changes, like rephrased copy and newer photos, not to mention the insertion of outdated pop-culture references.

Useless Attachments Increase College Textbook Prices

Publishers attach E-text and supplemental material to textbooks that raise the price. Like a CD in the back of a textbook you never used but somehow managed to lose by the end of the semester. A study found that 64% of professors rarely or never used the extra material. Those supplemental materials can make the textbook cost twice as much.

Beware of Statistics

Getting back to where we started, you may be thinking, “Wow! 1,041% is a huge number.” In fact, several organizations dispute this number, including:

The Association of American Publishers claims that viewing the increase as a percentage misrepresents the cost. If a textbook is $50 and then $100, its price increases by 100%. True, the price change can seem small compared to larger numbers, but the costs add up.

The National Association of College Stores reprimanded the College Board for estimating textbook costs rather than using collected data. NACS calculated textbook costs as half of the College Board’s predicted $1,200. Yet, the prediction about the average cost of college textbooks in 2020 doesn’t seem to be so far-fetched now, as this year’s textbook prices statistics prove.

Needless to say, the rising cost of college textbooks is a problem. The NACS itself recognized the issue of higher education costs and partnered with a Congressional committee to address higher education expenses in the United States.

How to Lower the Cost of Textbooks

Though prices are increasing and your textbooks lose value, they still have value. Trust BookScouter to find the best price to sell your books. Take those cheap textbooks out of the closet and check out our site to find the best price for your textbooks.

Renting textbooks is another good strategy that can help you optimize your college textbook costs and lower your college expenses.