High Prices Prevent College Students from Buying Assigned Textbooks

August 23, 2011

Survey Finds Soaring Costs,
Publisher Tactics May Jeopardize Success in Classes

Washington, DC
– Skyrocketing textbook prices have driven many college students to risk
their grades by foregoing assigned books according to a survey released
today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).  Seven
out of ten undergraduates who took the survey reported they had not purchased
one or more textbooks because the cost was too high.  This
startling trend adds to mounting evidence that high college expenses can
impact student success.

“I am paying for my entire college education, so
adding the high price of textbooks is really hard for
me financially,” commented one Indiana University junior who took the
anonymous survey. “It's frustrating because you have to buy the books
in order to do well in many classes.”

Alongside tuition and fees, textbook costs have
risen sharply in recent years.  New analysis by U.S. PIRG found
that textbook prices increased 22% over the last four years,
quadruple inflation; this year's freshmen will pay $122 for every $100 the
graduating class of 2011 paid during their first year. 

According to the College Board, students should expect to spend
$1,137 annually on textbooks and other course materials.
 The GAO estimates that textbook costs
are comparable to 26% of tuition at state universities and 72% at
community colleges.

"Students recognize that textbooks are essential
to their education but have been pushed to the breaking point by skyrocketing
costs," said Rich Williams, Higher Education Advocate for U.S. PIRG.
 "The alarming result of this survey underscores the urgent need for
affordable solutions."

Survey Findings

The survey polled 1,905 undergraduates from 13
campuses this spring.  The major finding was that 70% of
respondents had decided against buying at least one assigned textbook
due to cost.  While some of these students reported sharing or
borrowing instead, 78% still believed they would generally do worse in
class without their own copy of the required text.

"I wasn't sure until a few days before the
term started whether I could afford going to school," commented a
University of Southern California sophomore who was unable to buy several
required books.  "This was very stressful, as I often fell
behind in the readings."

Students also reported negative impacts from the
publishing industry's long-standing bad practices that inflate
costs; 93% of the students said at least one such practice had affected the
price or resale value of their books.

81% had been affected by new editions.  Publishers release new
editions every 3-4 years regardless of changes to the subject, which
effectively eliminates the used book market for the previous edition.

59% had been affected by bundling.  “Bundling,” or the
practice of packaging textbooks with CDs, pass-codes and other bells
and whistles can force students to pay for unwanted items, which
often expire or get lost making books impossible to sell back.

48% had been affected by custom editions created
for their school.
  Customization, often presented
as a cost-saving measure can have the opposite effect by
segregating students from the larger used book market and eliminating
off-campus buying options.

"As if outrageous $100-200 price tags aren't
enough, publisher tactics make textbooks even more difficult for students to
buy," said Williams.  "It's adding insult to injury."

For tips about saving money on textbooks, visit www.studentpirgs.org/textbooks/tips.

Textbook Rebellion

Continued publisher abuse has fueled frustration
among not just students, but also faculty, parents and other groups
that share the burden of textbook costs.  This fall, U.S. PIRG
is joining forces with Campus Progress, Flat
World Knowledge, Rock the Vote and numerous other organizations
to launch a joint national effort called the
"Textbook Rebellion."

The Textbook Rebellion represents a united
front across all stakeholders and seeks to raise awareness of solutions.
 Students can already save hundreds by taking advantage of rentals, used books,
and in some cases, eBooks and eReaders.
 Longer-term solutions have even greater potential, like open textbooks,
which are licensed to allow everyone to freely use, adapt and print
the material.  Open texts are already used in more than 2,000
classes and save students 80% on average.

This semester, U.S. PIRG will lead a national campus
tour of the larger-than-life Textbook Rebellion mascots, "Textbook
Rebel" and "Mr. $200 Textbook."  More details and a
list of tour stops will be announced later this month.

Find the full survey from U.S. PIRG here.

Textbook price
inflation was calculated from Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI)
data, which measures average price change over time as experienced
by consumers.  To calculate the figure, we compared the annual
CPI for “College Textbooks” in 2007 (138.6) and 2010 (168.8) to
the annual CPI for “All Items” in the same years (207.3 and
218.0 respectively).  The outcome was that the price increase of
College Textbooks was 22%, 4.22 times the price increase of All
Items.  Data accessed August 1, 2011.

The survey was
conducted by students and staff with U.S. PIRG and Arizona
Students’ Association on 13 campuses during the spring 2011
semester.  A total of 1,905 surveys were collected through
a combination of on-campus outreach and e-mail.  Since the
methodology relies on opportunistic sample selection, this survey does
not necessarily represent to the larger student population and should
be treated as a snapshot of opinions from the campuses and students
it reflects.  Statistics were calculated by dividing the number
of students who selected a specific answer to a question divided by
the total number of students who answered the question.


U.S. PIRG, the federation of State
Public Interest Research Groups, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest
advocacy organization.  It has campus chapter affiliates across the
country. For more information visit http://www.uspirg.org

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