7 in 10 Students Have Skipped Buying a Textbook Because of Its Cost, Survey Finds

August 23, 2011

For many students and their families, scraping together the money to pay for college is a big enough hurdle on its own. But a new survey has found that, once on a campus, many students are unwilling or unable to come up with more money to buy books—one of the very things that helps turn tuition dollars into academic success.

In the survey, released on Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization, seven in 10 college students said they had not purchased a textbook at least once because they had found the price too high. Many more respondents said they had purchased a book whose price was driven up by common textbook-publishing practices, such as frequent new editions or bundling with other products.

"Students recognize that textbooks are essential to their education but have been pushed to the breaking point by skyrocketing costs," said Rich Williams, a higher-education advocate with the group, known as U.S. PIRG. "The alarming result of this survey underscores the urgent need for affordable solutions."

The survey, of 1,905 undergraduates on 13 campuses, including both large public universities and community colleges, does not measure the academic consequences for students who do not purchase textbooks, or predict which students are most likely to forgo buying books because of high prices. But 78 percent of those students who reported not buying a textbook said they expected to perform worse in that class, even though some borrowed or shared the textbook.

Publishing practices drove up costs for an even larger group of students. Eighty-one percent of all students also reported being negatively affected because a publisher had released a new edition of a certain textbook, eliminating the resale value of their used text, or preventing them from buying a used textbook.

"Bundling," the practice of packaging a textbook with CD's and passcodes that get lost or expire, also limiting resales, affected 59 percent of respondents. Forty-eight percent of students reported that they had been hurt by required editions published exclusively for their college, which cut them off from the used-textbook market as well.

Separate analyses from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group have found that textbook costs are typically comparable to 26 percent of tuition at state universities and 72 percent of tuition at community colleges.