7 Out of 10 College Students Don’t Buy Textbooks


7 out of 10 students say they have skipped buying a textbook due to its cost, says the Chronicle of Higher Education. A survey released on Tuesday by a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said that a majority of students said they had not purchased a college textbook because these were too costly.

1,905 undergraduates on 13 campuses, including both large public universities and community colleges, participated. The survey did not take into account how not having a textbook, or sharing one with another student, might affect a student’s academic performance. But 78 percent of the students responding did say they expected to perform worse in a class if they hadn’t bought the textbook.

I’ve heard faculty inveighing against students who have money enough for a cell phone but don’t purchase a textbook. But many textbooks — in science and business classes, for instance — can cost a few hundred dollars. Publishers frequently offer new editions and also “extra materials” online or on a special CD; students are told that if they have to buy a particular edition (the newest) and therefore are unable to purchase a used book.

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.

A separate analysis from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has found that textbook costs comprise about 26 percent of tuition at state universities and 72 percent of tuition at community colleges.

In my own classes — at a small, private (Jesuit) urban college with many lower-income students — I’ve noted that about half the students in any class seem to have the textbook. It is of course required to have it; students often try to share or borrow a book. I teach Latin, ancient Greek and Classics and have been trying to keep down book costs by not insisting on any particular edition of a basic Latin or Greek textbook. The different editions tend to have small differences that aren’t noticeable to the students; older editions can often be purchased for far lower prices online. Also, I am teaching “dead languages,” so the information about Latin and ancient Greek grammar changes little from book to book.

I also try to rely more and more on the internet. There are quite a few websites with lots of information about Latin and ancient Greek grammar and I routinely refer students to these. I post lots of information (homework assignments and translation exercises, syllabus) online. The internet is chock-full of websites with images and information about archaeology, mythology, ancient history, gladiators and much, much more and I draw on these rather than looking for a glossy textbook with images and maps.

Not every professor can do this for every course. But with the rising costs of tuition and other expenses for college, students are going to need to cut corners. Does every textbook really need to have so many colored graphs and glossy photos?


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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

William C
William Cabout a year ago


Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Their are quite a few countries that provide free tuition for higher education. This would be a worthwhile investment in our youth. They are: France, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Cuba, and Uganda.

Rin S.
Rin S6 years ago

The prices of textbooks need to be lowered. How can we be expected to have decent education when we can't even afford the material?

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago


yaremis l.
Sarah M6 years ago

This needs to stop!

Laure H.
Laure H6 years ago

I don't think professors have that much trouble preparing quality lessons - especially if dealing with material that doesn't change substantially over time, like American History 1620 - to -1879, Algebra 1 and 2, etc. Why on earth do we need new texts every year? It is so that the publisher thrives, not the student or the teacher. Or because the teacher wants to teach the material from a different political slant....and even that isn't likely to change substantially from year to year.

Professors develop their own lecture material out of their own wide experience and/or from textbooks. Seems to me it would be MORE work to have to keep updating lectures to match textbooks from year to year on top of updating lecture material from the professor's own unique learning in their various areas.

Part of the value of having a live professor is the unique perspective that is put forth in class, and the opportunity to discuss the ideas that the professor is most passionate about, unique nuances on the basic course of study. Every minute that professor has to spend adapting to a new textbook (of basic material) is a minute spent away from deeper and more interesting material that is not readily available to the ordinary student, which ultimately robs the student - both financially and intellectually.

Ed Gould
Ed G6 years ago

I bought all my books and the books were invaluable. Probably all but 1 class, a book was really needed (meaning you couldn't pass without one). The one class was an extra credit class and to be fair it wasn't needed. My brother bought all the engineering books and I remember accompanying him and thought the prices were high (this was in the late 1950's). He got great grades and he has died his senior year and his books while new were well used by the time I went through them.

Its always troubled me about the text books and the only option (which wasn't fool proof) was to put them on a DVD in a way they couldn't be copied and a way they could write notes in the books. Alas there isn't a fool proof way to do this.

Eleftheria Christodoulou

It's really a hard work for the professors to try to concentrate on a certain quality of the lesson material while searching on cheap solutions of finding it, when the pressure of an economic system breakdown is beginning to show more and more in a daily basis.

Education needs to shape a different face and we recognise this as a fact a long time now.

Mick R.
Mick R6 years ago

Textbooks have always been very expensive for college students. However, I never failed to buy a required book. I might have skipped some of the optional material but not the required stuff. You learn much more if you read the book in addition to attending the class. Of course it might mean that you have to work full time to pay your way (like I did most of the time) but it will be worth it. And keep reading so you can keep learning!