The Money-Hungry Monster of Textbook Prices

Textbook PricesSeniors: Imagine this scenario: You’re a newly accepted freshman wrought with a sense of anticipation and wonder as you hit the “submit” button to finalize your class roster.  To fully prepare for your upcoming venture, you view your college’s bookstore website to add up prices.  Then you sit, horrified and wide-eyed as your textbook cost amounts to $300, $400, or $500+ for the required materials.

This number may be particularly shocking for California community college (CCC) attendees, who intentionally avoided excess cost for their initial 2-year courses spent at a CSU or UC.  Instead of shelling out over $13,000 per year for a CSU in-state tuition, the average a CCC student can expect is around $4,000.  So they accept their $1,000 to 2,000 or so fee for the term, only to realize that books alone could reach up to $600 or more that semester.  That’s 40% of their tuition.  Talk about excessive!

Unimaginable Price Jumps

As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, the book “Principles of Economics” forces students to pay at least $250 for that single text.  Many students end up covering textbook costs using their own money.  If they clocked in 35 hours of minimum wage earns, they could afford that book, but compared to 1982, a book with that information cost $20.  With minimum wage at $3.35, it instead took merely six hours to cover the cost.

To put the massive sticker price jump into further perspective, let this digest for a minute: In the past 30 years, textbook prices have swelled up—get ready for it—a whopping 812%.

Underlying Reasoning

If you get the chance, unfold the front cover of a classroom textbook and see if you can find its retail price hidden anywhere among the usual publishing details.  We can almost guarantee that’ll be a futile venture.

While publishers purposely leave out the wholesale price, teachers and students fail to question it further.  The allure of used and rental opportunities beckon penny-pinching students, but unfortunately, additional features like online quizzes (via SAM or other mediums) can only be accessed using a code, either bundled with a pricey brand-new book or as a stand-alone code.  It seems silly, but you could purchase what you think is a full-fledged text, and find yourself $200 deeper in debt for a piece of paper typed with an activation key.

Instructors choose these routes because of the beneficial features to save them time: PowerPoints, pre-made exams, and other helpful materials… but these are for the teacher’s convenience.  Despite the outrageous sticker prices, instructors accept it as necessity, and thus render students unable to bypass the extra cost.  With the focus on rising tuition costs, textbooks become a side-product of the higher education inflation.  At what point will we start raising our voices and pushing back to what’s considered unreasonable?  900% inflation?  1,000?

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at (650) 587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Jeff Krause

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