It’s no secret that higher education in America is expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the amount of student debt in America stands at nearly $1.8 trillion and counting. There are plenty of contributors to this copious amount of money, but one of the most absurd is the increasingly high cost of college textbooks.
The College Board estimates that the average student will spend $1,298 on books and supplies each year at a four-year public college, and this number has risen dramatically over the past few decades. An NBC News review of the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the cost of textbooks increased by 1,041% between January 1977 and June 2015, over three times higher than the overall inflation of 308% between those years. It’s no surprise then that 65% of college students said they skipped buying required materials during college because of their cost.
There are several reasons for the ludicrous pricing of these textbooks. The college textbook industry has an advantage that most other products in a free market economy do not: The person making the purchasing decision is not the one paying for the product. Professors are able to assign students a book for the class, and students cannot simply buy a “generic brand” alternative. A 2013 study conducted by the United States Government Accountability Office unsurprisingly found that faculty view affordability as secondary to the quality of the textbook.
Additionally, the used textbook market has been hit hard in recent years by the rise of access codes that expire after a semester and must be newly purchased. Approximately 60% of students used an access code during the 2016-17 school year, costing an average of $100 each. Many individual homework assignments must be submitted using these online access codes as well, meaning that students cannot save money by sharing these textbooks.
Clearly, something must be done to stop these skyrocketing costs, but recent cost reduction initiatives have proven to be largely ineffective.
In the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, textbook publishers were required to disclose the prices of textbooks to professors and offer components of a course bundle separately. However, this has not reversed the trend of course material inflation since its passage.
Instead, I am calling on professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and every university for that matter, to adopt inclusive access textbooks or open educational resources for their classes. Inclusive access is digital course content offered by publishers at a reduced cost by volume discounts, while open educational resources allow students to download and share course content for free. Both models would substantially reduce the financial burden on students.
The University of California-Davis implemented a program with inclusive access textbooks in 2014, and the 3,000 students who used them saved over $1 million. If the over 25,000 students at UNL used these textbooks, they could be a combined $8.3 million richer.
Another benefit of inclusive access textbooks is that students receive access on or before the first day of classes through Canvas. According to a study done by Wakefield Research, 80% of U.S. college students have waited to purchase course materials until after classes have started, and 39% reported that this decision has negatively impacted their grade. With the adoption of inclusive access, students would no longer have to wait in long lines at the bookstore to start out the semester and over one-third of students’ grades would be positively impacted.
I am not alone in this demand. Members of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Academic Committee are also encouraging professors to adopt inclusive access textbooks at UNL.
University professors owe it to their students to provide an affordable option, enabling students to worry more about course content than balancing their finances.
Brian Beach is a freshman journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was corrected at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2020 to clarify the difference between open educational resources and inclusive access.