Do you know how much the textbook you have selected for your courses will cost students? Is the textbook bundled and sold with a CD or supplementary materials? Are those materials necessary for the course? How often are new editions of a textbook released by the publisher? Are there significant differences between editions? These questions cut to the heart of the textbook affordability issue.
Textbook prices have risen by 812% over the past 35+ years, and since 2006, textbook costs have increased at a rate four times faster than the rate of inflation (Zook, 2017). The California Public Interest Research Group found that 22 frequently assigned textbooks had an average cost of $131.44 (Capriccioso, 2006). The average cost of textbooks per student per year has risen to over $1100, and 30% of college students use financial aid to buy their textbooks (Zook, 2017), contributing to the student loan debt burden students face. Considering these numbers, the outcry over the escalating cost of textbooks is understandable. To address this issue, state policy makers and universities are exploring ways to ensure students can access affordable textbooks.
The average cost of textbooks per student per year has risen to over $1100, and 30% of college students use financial aid to buy their textbooks … contributing to the student loan debt burden students face.
In 2006, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) requested university faculty, student groups, and bookstore managers to examine college textbook prices and the feasibility of a textbook rental program and other cost-saving measures for textbooks. The ensuing report states that “Textbook rental programs and alternative cost-saving measures can help reduce the financial burden on students and families from escalating textbook costs. For such efforts to be successful, however, they will need the support of institutional administrators, students, faculty, bookstore operators, and publishers. State assistance in procuring funds for start-up costs would be vital to the success of textbook rental programs” (Illinois Board of Higher Education, 2007). Aside from textbook rental programs, there are ways for individual faculty to make textbooks affordable for their students. Consider the following cost-saving alternatives from the IBHE report and the Chicago Tribune (Bigda, 2007), as well as other common-sense recommendations:
Investigate the cost of a textbook before adopting it for a course … [and] explore other alternatives.
… allow students to purchase recent, previous editions … faculty can notify students about relevant revisions to the text.
NIU’s University Libraries have developed a guide on textbook affordability for faculty (there is also a section for students, which you may want to share with your classes). A section on accessibility of course materials is also included within the faculty guide.
According to a 2017 Wakefield study, 85% of students delay or avoid purchasing course materials, 91% of those students cited cost as the reason they delayed or avoided buying course materials, and 50% of students said that delaying or avoiding purchasing materials had negatively impacted their grades (as cited in “Textbook Affordability: Resources and Alternatives,” 2019). There may not be one perfect solution for taming the cost of textbooks for all courses, but we can join the ranks of other universities and faculty who are implementing the alternatives outlined here. By making conscious decisions about how we choose our textbooks and selecting textbooks that are accessible to our students, we can promote student success and engagement at NIU.
Bigda, C. (2007). Learn to cut cost of books for college: Illinois mulls programs for renting, not buying. Chicago Tribune.
Capriccioso, R. (2006). A Closer read on textbook costs. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/08/17/closer-read-textbook-costs
Illinois Board of Higher Education. (2007). A report on the feasibility of textbook rental programs and other textbook cost-saving alternatives in Illinois Public Higher Education. Retrieved from http://legacy.ibhe.org/Board/agendas/2007/February/Item12TextbookReport.pdf
Powers, E. (2006). Wanted: Book for a term. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/03/23/wanted-book-term
Textbook Affordability: Resources and Alternatives. (2019). Retrieved from https://libguides.niu.edu/c.php?g=753476&p=5397370
Zook, C. (2017). Infographic: Textbook costs skyrocket 812% in 35 years. Retrieved from https://www.aeseducation.com/blog/infographic-the-skyrocketing-cost-of-textbooks-for-schools-students
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Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Textbook affordability. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide