The price of a college education has skyrocketed in recent decades, but it’s not only tuition that contributes to student loan debt. Textbook prices have increased more than 1000% since the 1970s, according to a recent NBC documentary.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that between January 1977 and June 2015, the price of textbooks increased 1041%, which is three times the rate of inflation in the same period. A student at a public college is estimated to need $1,225 for textbooks this year.
Mark Perry, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan who has tracked textbook prices for years, said:
College textbook prices are increasing way more than parents’ ability to pay for them.
However, the news isn’t all bad: a spokesperson from the National Association of College Stores, Laura Massie, reports that actual spending has decreased because students have become “savvier shoppers” in the past two decades. In 2014, the real average was $638 compared to $700 in 1998, reports Christine DiGangi of Credit.com.
The traditional method of saving money is to sell used textbooks to other students or back to the school store. However, internet technology is making saving money on textbooks easier. Students have the option to rent textbooks through sites like Chegg or TextbookRush and mail them back at the end of the semester or to buy cheaper digital versions of the books. According to Bob Popken of MSNBC, there’s also another option — you can get a $2,500 textbook and course material tax credit via IRS form 8863.
The postulated reason for the price hike is that textbook publishers are marketing to professors instead of students, which Katie Dowd of SF Gate notes is the same sales model that allows pharmaceutical companies to charge high prices for drugs. To get a degree, students must take certain required classes, and they are therefore obligated to buy whatever textbooks those classes demand or sacrifice their degree.
Nicole Allen, a spokesperson for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, agreed:
They’ve been able to keep raising prices because students are captive consumers. They have to buy whatever books they’re assigned.
Ariel Diaz, the CEO of free and low-cost textbook publisher Boundless, said that cutting students out of the consumer decision-making loop hurts their wallets:
Professors are not price-sensitive, and they then assign [specific books], and students have no say.
According to Eben Blake of the International Business Times, the average tuition cost has increased drastically as well — a year at a private, nonprofit four-year university was $1,832 in 1971 and is $31,231 this year, which is more than 17 times as much.