With Costs Rising Faster Than Tuition, Can Textbooks Last Long?

Much to the demise of book publishers, students are increasingly turning to free materials online.

Students are continually searching for ways to get around ridiculously high textbook prices. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

Standing in line at the bookstore and praying your college textbooks won't break the bank is sadly not a rare occurrence.

The College Board estimates that the yearly books-and-supplies costs for the average student at a four-year public college is a whopping $1,168.

Mark J. Perry, a scholar at The American Enterprise Institute, has created this chart to show us just how much the cost of textbooks has increased in the last three decades.

As it turns out, since 1978, textbook prices have risen by 812 percent. The cost has increased faster than tuition, healthcare, and housing prices.

More: 8 Ways to Keep Your Student Loan Debt From Crushing You

This is not good news, we know. But don't worry, it may get better soon.

Startups like Boundless offer free educational resources online to help students get around the textbook bubble. The tagline for Boundless is "Free Textbooks. For Real. No Catch." 

According to their website, they create textbooks "by finding the best content from open educational libraries, government resources, and other free learning sites." They use an "innovative process" that ties it all together, "resulting in the greatest textbooks at the greatest price, free."

Tech Crunch reports that Boundless "believes that an oligopoly of textbook publishers has been driving up costs for years (as the four top publishers currently control the lion’s share of the market) and so it set out to change that."

According to the National Association of College Stores, 77.4 cents for every dollar spent on a textbook goes to the publisher. This high percentage accounts for the publisher's paper, printing, editorial, general and administrative costs; marketing costs; and the publisher’s income. It also includes author income.

While students don't feel the high cost is necessary, publishers say the work put into the finished product matches the cost. Bruce Hildebrand, the executive director of higher education at the Association of American Publishers, said, according to U.S. News and World Report, that "If you want a concept book in black and white, go get it, and it will be incredibly cheap. What faculty are looking for are calculus books that have interactive components and have applications."

Regardless of where the money goes, Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has hopefully made the correct prediction. He writes on his economic and finance blog Carpe Diem that "In the face of increasing competition from the 'open educational resources' movement, the traditional college textbook model will likely suffer the same fate as the traditional encyclopedia when it was challenged by Wikipedia."

Until this happens, consider options like Boundless and follow the National Association of College Store's suggestions on how to save money when purchasing textbooks.

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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