Press Release

Frequently Asked Questions: Course Materials and Textbooks

Frequently Asked Questions: Course Materials and Textbooks

Have textbook prices risen this year? 
No. The amount students spend on their textbooks has slightly declined according to independent research firm Student Monitor. In the 2017-2018 academic year students spent on average of $64 on a textbook (new, used, rented, or digital), down from $66 in 2016-2017. This has led to the third consecutive year of spending declines, according to both Student Watch and Student Monitor which places spending for the 2017-2018 academic year at about $500, down from between $543 and $579 in 2016-2017.

Why have costs declined over time?
The reasons students are spending less include increasing a competitive retail market, volume-discount programs like inclusive access, use of rental options for both print and digital materials, and more choices for students – including subscription services and integration of OER into digital platforms.

Are students buying fewer textbooks because they’re expensive?
According to the Student Watch report for the 2017-2018 academic year, while students report spending less on their required course materials, they’re still purchasing roughly the same amount of course materials as they have the past few years.

Do course materials make up a large percent of college expenses?No. When students spend around $500 on course materials, that’s just 1-2% of their overall budget at four-year universities. More details on that calculation can be found here.

Is the College Board’s estimate of $1,300 a year for books and supplies accurate?
The College Board’s figure for “books and supplies” is often cited incorrectly. The College Board provides an estimated average that university financial aid offices believe students should budget – not what students actually spend. The College Board figure factors in supplies, which includes expenses for tablets, peripherals (like printers) and lab supplies. Student spending on course materials (new, used, print, digital, or rented) is around $500 a year according to Student Watch and Student Monitor. The US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study also which found undergraduate students spent just $555 in the 2015-2016 academic year on required course materials.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), textbook prices are increasing faster than inflation. Is it true?
The consumer price index reflects only the cost of a new hardbound print textbook. The CPI excludes digital learning materials, used textbooks, rented materials and publisher initiatives that make course materials more affordable for students. Since new textbooks are only about 36% of units sold, according to Student Monitor, the CPI is not an accurate reflection of the cost of course materials.

Are textbook publishers doing anything to reduce the cost of textbooks?
Yes. Textbook publishers and learning companies are addressing college affordability. Notably, some new initiatives include: volume-discount programs like inclusive access, new subscription programs that provide access to a range of textbooks, and incorporating OER materials in their digital platforms.

Do students prefer print or digital?
It varies by student, but in general they prefer print by a narrow margin. Print textbooks (either alone or with a digital component) were the preferred option for 58% of students in the 2017-2018 academic year according to Student Watch.

Will all books be digital eventually?
While more students than ever are using digital materials, print books will remain an important option for students. In fact, despite the prevalence of digital, 58% of students cite print textbooks or print textbooks with a digital component as their preferred option for textbooks, according to the Student Watch 2017-2018 report.

What are Inclusive Access programs?
Inclusive Access Programs (also called Digital Discount, Digital Direct Access or Enterprise Solutions) provide students access to course materials on the first day of class at a discounted price. Students pay for materials when paying tuition and fees and can use loans, grants or scholarships.In a recent Student Watch survey for the 2017-2018 academic year, 74% of students were interested in the Inclusive Access program, when the cost of course materials is included in the cost of tuition. That number jumped to 91% when the materials were both included in tuition and were less expensive. Students at more than 500 college campuses in the US currently participate in Inclusive Access programs

What is OER and how is it used in classrooms?
Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that they are released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and anyone can legally copy, use, adapt and re-share them freely without compensating the creator or rights holder. OER can include courseware (e.g. textbooks, tests, tutorials); learning objects (e.g. supplemental and modular learning resources); and multimedia (e.g. audio, video, online animation). Many learning companies, including AAP members, integrate OER content into their commercial platforms and partner with OER producers to create content-rich digital products.

Is OER free for students?
Not necessarily. Students may need to purchase access codes for digital platforms or pay for print copies of digital material. Students may also be paying for OER indirectly through tuition or fees. OER materials must be developed, formatted, integrated with other systems and regularly revised. The money to do this has to come from somewhere, so OER is typically funded by grants from government or philanthropies, venture capital, tuition or some combination of these.

Why should students pay for textbooks when there is free OER available?
There is a vast amount of free educational content available online. However, the right content may be hard to find or there isn’t enough high quality content on a specific subject. Many faculty find there is still a need for professionally researched and vetted materials produced by learning companies. Other times, students benefit from the interactive technology platforms, the assessments and the material’s alignment with course curriculum and learning objectives. OER may be the right solution for some professors or universities, but this isn’t always the case. More information on OER is available here.