Textbooks have long been a surprisingly large expense for college students, and the cost has only grown year after year. The Government Accountability Office found that college textbook prices have grown by 82% from 2002 to 2013, outpacing inflation by a factor of three¹. A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group noted that 65% of students chose not to buy a textbook due to its cost. In response, some professors have shifted to using older editions of textbooks, or even outright buying textbooks for students to use².
High textbook costs lead to difficult decisions
The skyrocketing expense of required textbooks is clearly forcing both students and faculty to make difficult decisions, and we decided to survey 1,000 students on their experiences with paying for these books. What we found was that these high prices are indeed the norm for most students: Over four years, the surveyed students reported spending an average of $2,960 total, for an average of 37.6 books. With average four-year college fees ranging from $10,730 to $40,917, textbooks can be a substantial portion of overall college costs³.
Textbook costs by major
There was a large difference in the price of textbooks among various majors. Students majoring in business reported the highest costs by far: $526 per semester. This was $167 greater than the second-highest prices – $359 per semester for those majoring in fields of science or mathematics. And students who are paying their own way through college ended up spending the most of all. The average cost of textbooks per semester was $573 for students primarily supporting themselves via their job, compared to only $323 for those relying mostly on student loans.
The textbook landscape
The financial aspects of college are a complex landscape for students to navigate, and textbook costs can make this even more challenging. Read on and find out more about where college students are buying and selling their textbooks, how much they’re earning back through resale, and how many of these textbooks are actually being used.