The Cost of Success: High Textbook Prices in Colleges

The Cost of Success: High Textbook Prices in Colleges

By: Jaylen Miller

It’s the first day of school and you hear the same spiel in every class, “You’re going to need to pick up the required reading(s) for this class”.  You realize that after today, you really can’t avoid picking up those books anymore, so you drag yourself over to the Husky bookstore.  Just like everyone else.

Walking in, you have to pull up your schedule so you know which course number and and section you’re in so you can find the right book for your right class. Once you tackle that, you have to actually find someone to help you find your books, unless you’re one of the brave souls who try to find your text books by yourself.

You wait in line for what seems like an hour, only to get up to the cash register and see your total. You just dropped $600 for books you’re going to use for one semester.  Don’t forget that you’ll pay that much for next semester’s books too.

Now, that $600 could have gone towards 2-3 months worth of rent for a Quad apartment (four bedrooms with four people) on Saint Cloud State University (SCSU) campus, which may range from $250 to $300 per person, per month according to the SCSU website (Off Campus Housing, “What’s the cost?”).

If you have ever felt outraged about the amount of money you’re spending on your textbooks, you’re not alone. College students are being forced to buy these highly priced textbook and have begun to look for different ways to get their textbooks without having to pay the high prices.

In fact, some college students have started to opt out of buying some of their textbooks all together.  According to the U.S News article written by Allie Bidwell, Report: High Textbook Prices Have College Students Struggling”, “65 percent of students said they decided against buying a book required for class and nearly all (94 percent) of them said they were concerned that doing so would hurt their grade in that class”(Paragraph 8).  This means that two out of every three college students are not getting all the resources they feel they need to be successful.

That’s not to say that St. Cloud State students aren’t getting the course material at all though.  The U.S Today article by David Schick and Mary Beth Marklein, “College students say no to costly textbooks”, reported the findings of a survey released in July 2013 by the Book Industry Study Group, which surveys 6,000 book buyers a month.  That survey stated that of their survey takers “34% this spring reported downloading course content from an unauthorized website” and also that “31% said they photocopied or scanned chapters from other students’ books”(Paragraph 3).

This goes to show that college students are, for a lack of better words, working the system and finding more creative ways to get the same course material as the students who are purchasing the course material.

The thing is, textbook prices haven’t always been this high.  There has been a large growth in textbook prices in recent years. Textbook prices have increased 82% since 2002 compared to the 28% growth in the Consumer Price Index (the change in price levels) during the same time span (“College students say no to costly textbook prices” paragraph 4).

When I sat down and thought about what all is included in the cost of a textbook nowadays, I found myself wondering if the high price of textbooks can be seen as practical.

In the U.S. News article by Danielle Kurtzleben, “How Your Textbook Dollars Are Divvied Up”, textbook publishers argue that the high prices are practical because of the components included with the books, such as interactive components and website codes (Paragraph 11).

An example of including the interactive component would be my Economics class.  In my Microeconomics class, we use an online quiz application called Inquizitive that we paid for with our textbooks.  It allows us to work with online tutors and access the book online as well.  It has been a really useful supplemental tool for me in that class.

Now, the professors can’t really be held accountable for the picking these high priced textbooks. Many times, the professors are unaware of the cost to students.  For example, in Connecticut, the “Board of Governors for High Education study (2006) revealed that only 58 percent of that state’s faculty were aware of the cost of the textbooks they selected for their courses” (Natsuko Hayashi Nicholls, “The Investigation Into the Rising Cost of Textbooks.”, page 8, paragraph 3)

Here in Minnesota,we’ve proposed solution to make sure students know what they’re paying.

In 2012, a bill was proposed that “would require MnSCU schools to make the prices of textbooks available in course catalogs” according to paragraph 3 of the Minnesota Daily article, “Bill would require MnSCU schools disclose textbook prices earlier” by Alysha Bohanon.  This bill was proposed in order to “allow students to choose between similar classes with different texts, shop around for the best deals or better budget their money for textbooks.” (“Bill would require MnSCU schools disclose textbook prices earlier”, paragraph 3)

A different solution was the high cost of textbooks was proposed in paragraph 11 of the U.S. News Article, “Report: High Textbook Prices Have College Students Struggling” is the use of textbooks “that are online, free to download and customizable for professors”.  If universities were to enact this for all courses, “the group estimates students could save, on average, $100 per course, per semester”.

For example. “If every student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison were assigned just one open textbook each semester, it would generate over $6 million in student savings in just one year”(“Report: High Textbook Prices Have College Students Struggling”, Paragraph 12).

What could you do with $6 million dollars?  Maybe buy $600 worth of textbooks for 10,000 semesters?  Or pay your $300 rent for 1,666 years?

Bills like the one requiring teachers to make textbook price information available earlier and proposed solutions such as an open, customizable textbook may ease the strain of high textbook prices on college students and allow students to get the resources they need to succeed.


2 thoughts on “The Cost of Success: High Textbook Prices in Colleges

  1. I agree with you very much that the price of textbooks is a big problem. You also brought up several good ways to help combat the high cost of textbooks. Something that I recommend is checking around on the internet for textbooks before buying from the campus bookstore. The bookstore on campus tends to be higher priced. I wrote my blog on a similar same topic, but I focused more on the cost of online access codes. Currently I am taking Natural Hazards and Human Society. The “textbook” needed for that class is almost $140 on Amazon. The textbook is actually just a code allowing access to an online book and to online assignments. Like many students I plan on selling my textbooks at the end of the semester to try to get some money back. But because it is just a single use code, I won’t be able to sell it to get any money back. There are also other courses that need access codes but the codes only come in new books. After the code is used in the book the resale value is limited. These codes are going to severely hurt the used book market by making the books have limited resale value, if any. This is most likely the reason why textbook prices have gone up 82% since 2002. The textbook companies are not concerned with college students. They are only concerned with lining their own pockets with money and trying to kill the used book market.


  2. Right away your blog post grabbed me in because I know exactly what you’re saying, that text books prices are too high for what we get out of them. When I went to go get my text books this semester it was about $850! And I only bought two actual books… Since this is my first year at college I did not take advantage of other websites or way to get information to see if I would really need to use the class text book. There is a definite possibility that in the semesters to come if the book prices will stay the same without any other (cheaper) ways to get the information I just won’t get the required text.
    Also the interactive materials that come with the book for online can be very beneficial, such as in my chemistry class we use website to do homework on and it helps me learn, so this was one positive. However, in my physics class we needed an online portion for our class to do homework, it connects with the required text but was an additional $40 to buy! These online extras are very nice but if they would all come included with the price of the original book it would be easier for everyone.
    The first proposition you stated, about having schools show the pricing of the required books ahead of time, is good in the sense that I will be expecting to know how much I’m going to spend by the end of the day, but I don’t think this is a great solution because the prices are still outrageous. The second solution is better because it allows teachers to know what will be in the books, be able to change things, and will be cheaper for the student meaning they will be more likely to actually buy it. I think that text book prices are too high but with your solutions a real change could be instituted across all campuses.


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