Textbook costs are rising faster than college tuition

Textbooks and supplies cost the average college student $1,200 per year, and that price tag is rising quickly. But there are some ways to avoid paying out the nose for textbooks.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
Brittany Wolfe, a University of California Los Angeles Applied Mathematics 2010 graduate, checks old text books at the UCLA Powell Library Building, in Los Angeles. The cost of textbooks and other supplies are rising faster than college tuition, according to a recent study.

College students already have to worry about rising tuition costs, but today's students need to be concerned about rising textbooks costs, too. The College Board recently found that the average college student spends $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies.

Though that's a drop in the bucket for students at pricey private universities, it's 14% of tuition costs at a state-run public college or 39% of tuition costs at a community college. And when you consider the fact that textbook costs have increased by 864% since 1978 — rising faster than tuition prices or the consumer price index — it's no surprise why these essential educational materials are adding to the ballooning problem of student debt.

And publishers aren't helping, as they continue to encourage students to buy new books by releasing updated editions or bundling textbooks with software and other extras. Since textbook requirements are set by professors, students don't have a choice when it comes to what to buy: Unlike opting for a generic version of the same type of TV, for example, students can't shop around for lower-priced alternatives. The end result is that some students, as many as 65%, just don't buy required texts, even though it may put their grades at risk.

How to Save on Textbook Costs

So what's a cash-strapped college student to do? The first step is to chat with your professor. Some professors will lean on textbook readings a lot, and others will only use textbooks as a reference. Depending on how much use specific books are going to get, you could get away with checking certain texts out from the library occasionally or sharing a book (and the cost) with a friend or two in the same course.

If you definitely need your own textbook, however, buying used is the easiest way to save, with prices up to 30% off the original retail cost. If your professor recommends a brand new edition of a book, you can often find the previous edition at an even deeper discount, and probably without many changes, though you'll want to check how different the old and new editions are before you buy. If you do buy an old edition, expect the page numbers to be different if nothing else. This can make reading assignments a hassle, but one that may be worth the savings. Try your campus bookstore or sites like AmazonCraigslist, or Half.com to pick up used books for less.

Another option is renting a textbook from your college bookstore or an online retailer like Amazon,CheggCampusBookRentals, or Collegebookrenter.com. Rental times and prices vary greatly, but no matter what you decide on, expect a significant savings over buying new. The campus library can also be a source of books for no cost at all, but you may face competition from other students doing the same.

Readers, do any of you have your own tips to help students save on textbook costs? 

Elizabeth Harper is a contributing writer for Dealnews.com, where this article first appearedhttp://dealnews.com/features/The-Cost-of-Textbooks-Is-Rising-Faster-Than-the-Price-of-College-Tuition-/1037184.html

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story stated that CampusBookRentals only sold paperback books. The site sells both hardback and paperback books, and the error has been corrected. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.