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Why Are College Textbooks So Expensive?

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Why Do College Textbooks Cost So Much?

Any student attending college knows the horrible cost of textbooks. Unfortunately, textbooks are a requirement and there is no getting around that. Why are they so expensive and what can be done about it? Is there anything being done about it by the government or the colleges? Students must have textbooks, but with the high cost it is making affording college a more challenging financial hardship than it needs to be. The only way to fix the problem is to understand it, so a solution can be found and money can be saved.

The Expense for an Average College Student

For the average four year college student, the cost of books for a year averaged about $850 in the 2004-2005 academic year according to the College Board. That was an increase of $200 in five years. This expense is in addition to already rising tuition costs, increasing the financial burden on those wishing to get a higher education. For many students the increase in textbook costs means more financial aid from the government.

Increasing Textbook Costs

Textbook cost has been steadily rising over the last 20 years. The average increase is 6 percent per year. To put this in comparison to the national inflation increase, in the period of 1986 to 2004, the national inflation rate was 72 percent, but the textbook inflation rate was 240 percent.

Looking at the breakdown of textbook costs puts it in perspective of who exactly is benefiting the most from high textbook costs and who is most likely to blame for the expense rising. According to the National Association of College Stores College Store Industry Financial Report 2003, the breakdown of textbook costs is as follows:

1% freight cost
4% store income
7% publisher income
12% author income
17% store personnel and operation
59% publishing expenses

As you can see from the figures, the publishing costs are incredibly high. Without some change in how the publishing of textbooks takes place, prices are sure to continue increasing.

Combating Costs

The government has stepped in to help with rising textbook costs. The Government Accounting Office, GAO, has investigated into who textbook costs have been on the rise at such an alarming rate. The GAO found that increases have been largely due to the increase in costs with product development. This development has been to add in supplemental aids, such as CD ROMs, which are requested by instructors. Also they are due to revisions that are being requested more frequently.

The government has helped by exempting textbooks from sales tax, which some states also do. There is also work to stop bundling of textbooks with supplements because many times supplements are not needed, but through bundling the cost is increased. There is current on-going work on what can be done at a government level to decrease textbook costs to students.

What Can Be Done

Keeping costs down can also be handled by professors and students. Much of the increase in costs have been linked to professors making requests for improvements and supplementation of textbooks. Professors need to start thinking about the cost when choosing materials for their class. There have been suggestions about placing textbook copies in the library so they can be used there instead of being purchased.

Some universities are trying out a rental system with textbooks. This allows students to rent textbooks instead of buying them and saves an incredible amount of money. Students can also be resourceful. They can borrow books from friends or look online for used books.

The rising cost of textbooks is a problem that needs a solution. It is something that everyone, on every level, has to work together to solve. The costs will not go down if everyone is not working on finding a solution. The problem must be solved so students can get an affordable education without worrying about being able to afford books.

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