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Addressing the High Cost of College Textbook Prices Research Paper


Kissane and Maplethorpe (2007) argue the rise in textbook prices is so high that students are likely to forgo or delay pursing a college education. The high cost of college textbooks is a serious problem because textbooks prices increase on an annual basis and there are no measures which are being taken to address this problem. The rising cost of college textbooks affects students, parents, publishers, and textbook retailers.

A solution that does not benefit all the affected parties is unlikely to succeed. A number of institutions of higher learning such as community colleges and California State University (CSU), and University of California (UC) have proposed several viable solutions (GAO, 2005). Reducing the cost of college textbook prices requires a collaborative approach from all stakeholders in the education sector.

According to a report released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July 2005, prices of textbooks at the postsecondary level have significantly increased in the past twenty years. GAO’s report indicates that the high cost of college textbooks has added to the rising costs of tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions (Cornelia, 2005). GAO’s report also revealed that since the academic year of 1987-1988, textbook prices have had an annul increase of 6 percent (Cornelia, 2005).

In the same period, tuition and fees had a 7 percent annual increase (Cornelia, 2005). Moreover, since December 1988, according to GAO’s report, textbook prices have had a 186 per cent increase. On the other hand, tuition and fees have increased by 240 percent (Cornelia, 2005). In general, this represents a 72 percent increase in the cost of postsecondary education in the United States (Cornelia, 2005).

According to (Howle, 2009), the cost of college textbooks has become higher than the median household income. The total cost of college textbooks and students fees has become so high that some students are forced to suspend their college education.

In addition, Howle (2009) notes that from 2005 to 2008, increases in the cost of college education made a number of students question why they should go to college. Students who join community based colleges, which often admit students from financially unstable backgrounds, are facing these challenges just as their counterparts in private and public institutions of higher learning.

A study conducted by Howle (2009) indicated that it might cost $692 to $902 on textbooks per year for individuals who wish to purse college education in the US. Howle’s (2009) study found out that this phenomenon has made some students delay the completion of their college education or prevent them from attending college.

Some students sometimes purchase used textbooks so as to reduce their expenditure on textbooks. The survey indicated that in the academic years of 2005 and 2007, students spent close to $1,815 on textbooks of the major six subjects. This survey also noted that students are likely to save $308 in case they purchase used textbooks. Furthermore, students who sell their used textbooks are likely to net approximately $523 (Ellen & Loewy, 2010).

Due to the rising cost of college textbook prices, students have been forced to come up with ways of reducing the cost of textbooks. A majority of the students who were interviewed indicated that they often try to minimize the cost of textbooks by buying books from online stores. In fact, according to the study results, students are likely to save up to 32 percent of the total cost of textbooks in case they buy their books from online stores.

According to the association of American publishers, used textbooks significantly influence the price of new textbooks and the frequency of revisions. Further, some publishers noted that if they do not revise textbooks, the demand of such textbooks would fall. Moreover, a significant number of heads of departments and faculty who took part in the survey noted that frequent revisions to textbooks are irrelevant.

The survey found out that on the average, publishers produce new editions after every 3.9 years. Initially, the revision of textbooks occurred after a long period of time and this gave students a chance to buy used textbooks. Besides, the entry of new editions into the market required the approval of heads of departments. However, the lack of formal communication between deans of departments and publishers contributes to the frequent revisions.

It has also been found that some publishers produce supplementary materials so as to increase the demand of their textbooks. Some publishers often produce supplementary materials such as compact disks and student workbooks so as to enhance the demand of their textbooks. These supplements contribute to increases in textbook prices (Ellen & Loewy, 2010).

GAO’s report also revealed that the increase in the cost of postsecondary education textbooks varies depending on the type of institution one attends (Cornelia, 2005). The report highlighted several scenarios.

For instance, during the academic year of 2003-2004, a student attending a public institution, and pursing a four year course spent approximately $898 on textbooks and supplies in his or her first semester (Cornelia, 2005). In other words, the cost of textbooks and supplies represented a 26 percent of a student’s education expenditure in the first term alone (Cornelia, 2005).

During the same year, the total cost of textbooks and supplies stood at $886 for new students who attended public institutions that offer two year programs (Cornelia, 2005). This figure represented 75 percent of the total cost of tuition and fees for such new comers. It is evident from these statistics that the cost of textbooks in postsecondary institutions in the US is extremely high. As a result, the general cost of college education is extremely high.

A number of studies have been conducted to determine the causes of rising cost of college textbook prices. According to GAO, the cost of textbooks in the US is influenced by many factors (Cornelia, 2005). However, according to GAO’s findings, the addition of supplementary materials and frequent revisions are the leading factors which contribute to increase in textbook prices (Cornelia, 2005). In addition, GAO noted that an increase in production cost significantly affects textbook pricing (Cornelia, 2005).

In addition, the unavailability of used books has been found to be another factor that causes an increase in college textbook prices (Cornelia, 2005). Textbook publishers argue that they have been forced to hike text book prices to cover the high cost of production since changes in the education sector demand the incorporation of new features that correspond to the current educational requirements. For example, a majority of part time faculty need tutorial supplements such as web based tutorials.

In an endeavor to satisfy the customers’ needs, the publishers argue that they have to incorporate such supplements, and that these additional materials come at a cost. GAO also found out that there is growing trend in the publication sector where by publishers are frequently revising textbooks (Cornelia, 2005). Nowadays, publishers revise textbooks in a span of 2 to 4 years unlike in the past when new editions were published after a decade or after five years. Generally, the cost of new editions is higher than the previous versions.

In addition, frequent revisions lower the chances of college students to buy used textbooks, which are generally cheaper. According to GAO, publishers argue that they have been forced to conduct frequent revisions in order to meet the requirement of the ever changing education sector (Cornelia, 2005).

It has been noted that the price of a US college book might be different in other countries owing to the fact that markets vary. Thus, textbooks published in the US might be cheaper in other countries than in the US. Reselling used textbook in the US from other countries encounters a host of barriers. The college text book market is made up of publishers, retailers, and used textbooks wholesalers and all play apart in the increase of textbook prices (Cornelia, 2005).

Textbooks might either be new or used. Others often have supplementary materials. Generally, after a textbook has been published; publishers market it to potential clients most importantly to instructors and academic departments. Departments which decide the study materials to be used in college are the main targets. Publishers have employed sales representatives who market their textbooks. In addition, publishers also target conferences and meetings where decisions on college curricula are discussed.

On the other hand, textbook retailers often gather information from colleges, conferences, students, and instructors about the recommended study materials or the recommended curricula. After that, they often stock the recommended books in their bookshops. Such bookshops are located either within or outside the colleges.

Retailers are made up of large chain retails. This often includes private business owners and campus cooperatives (Cornelia, 2005). “Statistics from the National Association of College Stores indicate that a majority of college textbook stores are owned by the college they serve while a small percentage operates through lease agreements by external companies” (Kingsbury and Galloway, 2006, p. 65). Such companies often pay a commission to the host college and this is another factor that contributes to high college textbook prices.

Most publishers are forced to add technological improvements to their textbooks in order to remain relevant in the current dynamic education sector (Kingsbury & Galloway, 2006). The production of these technological improvements contributes to an increase in the prices of college textbooks since publishers have to recover their production costs. Experts in the education sector should work together to address this issue.

Some experts argue that this problem can be solved by encouraging students to purchase used textbooks. Generally, students who purchase used books are likely to save a significant amount of money although the number of such used books is low (Cornelia, 2005, p. 4).

Others hold the opinion that selling used books often leads to an increase in the prices of new books and thus should be abolished. This approach should not be implemented because selling used books is a source of income for some former students who no longer need the used books. Besides, used books are slightly cheaper than new books and abolishing their sale will significantly affect a small percentage of students who use this approach to minimize their cost on textbooks.

A majority of family members who took part in the survey do not know their role in the reduction of the cost of college textbooks. Cornelia (2005, p. 4) argues “this lack of awareness may partially explain why faculties submit most of their textbook adoption requests after the initial deadline, even though bookstore managers claim that timely textbook adoptions enable them to pay students for their used textbooks more for their used textbooks buyback and to produce more used textbooks for sale in the next term”.

In addition, a number of students noted that sometimes they never use the supplementary materials which are sold together with new textbooks.

Another probable solution may involve the use of open educational resources. They are in the form of teaching, learning, and research resources, which can be easily accessed by public domain (Kissane & Maplethorpe, 2007). Open educational materials include full courses, course materials, and modules. It also contains textbooks, streaming videos, software and other techniques used to support access to knowledge.

There are a number of viable resolutions which will address this issue comprehensively. This issue cannot be addresses by a single entity but requires collective responsibility.

Thus, the association of colleges, the association of American publishers, and the federal government should work together in addressing this problem (Reid, 2012). These organizations must enlighten campuses to embrace the provisions contained within recent state laws regarding textbook affordability. This will ensure that campuses adhere to set regulations (GAO, 2005).

Campuses should be advised to “submit their textbook adoption information to the bookstores by due dates to make certain that the bookstores can obtain as many books as possible and purchase books back from students at a higher cost (Howler, 2009, p. 65)”. Howler (2009) also argues that faculty should put into consideration the process of textbooks adoption but at the same time guaranteeing the provision of quality education and the academic freedom of the faculty (66).

This approach should prioritize the adoption of less costly textbooks. College faculties should be encouraged to adopt the use of textbooks without supplements. As noted earlier, an increase in the cost of textbooks has been attributed to the addition of supplementary materials by some publishers. Only very important supplementary materials should be included (Miller, 1992, p.195).

In addition, “college bookstores should be advised to evaluate the feasibility of implementing cost effective strategies such as low price guarantees and guaranteed buyback on certain titles, to the extent they have not already done so” (Miller, 1992 p. 196).

Furthermore, colleges should formulate rental programs whereby students can borrow books. This will ensure that financially disadvantaged students access the recommended books (Alter, 2009). Moreover, students should be encouraged to buy textbooks from online stores since such stores have favorable prices.

In conclusion, this paper has noted that the prices of college textbooks in the US have increased steadily in the last two decades. GAO’s report indicates that the high cost of college textbooks has added to the rising costs of tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions (Cornelia, 2005). GAO’s report also revealed that since the academic year of 1987-1988, textbook prices have had an annul increase of 6 percent (Cornelia, 2005).

In the same period, tuition and fees had a 7 percent annual increase (Cornelia, 2005). Moreover, since December 1988, according to GAO’s report, textbook prices have had a 186 per cent increase. On the other hand, tuition and fees have increased by 240 percent (Cornelia, 2005). In general, this represents a 72 percent increase in the cost of postsecondary education in the United States (Cornelia, 2005).

At the same time, the cost of tuition and fees has also increased steadily. The rise in textbook prices is so high that students are likely to forgo or delay pursing a college education. The high cost of college textbooks is a serious problem because textbooks prices increase on an annual basis and there are no measures which are being taken to address this problem. The rising cost of college textbooks affects students, parents, publishers, and textbook retailers.

In addition, Howle (2009) notes that from 2005 to 2008, increases in the cost of college education made a number of students question their wonder why they should go to college. Students who join community based colleges, which often admit students from financially unstable backgrounds, are facing these challenges just as their counterparts in private and public institutions of higher learning.

This has made college education extremely costly. Stakeholders in the education sector should address this issue in order to lower the cost of college education. Howle’s (2009) study found out that this phenomenon has made some students delay the completion of their college education or prevent them form attending college.

This figure represented 75 percent of the total cost of tuition and fees for such new comers. It is evident from these statistics that the cost of textbooks in post secondary institutions in the US is extremely. In addition, the cost of tuition and fees has also increased tremendously. As a result, the general cost of college education is extremely high. Thus, stakeholders in the education sector need to address the rising cost of college textbook prices so as to lower the cost of college education.

According to GAO, the cost of textbooks in the US is influenced by many factors (Cornelia, 2005). Most publishers are forced to add technological improvements to their textbooks in order to remain relevant in the current dynamic education sector (Kingsbury & Galloway, 2006). The production of these technological improvements contributes to an increase in the prices of college textbooks since publishers have to recover their production costs.

However, according to GAO’s findings, the inclusion of additional features such as websites and frequent revisions are leading factors, which have contributed to an increase in the cost of textbooks (Cornelia, 2005). This issue cannot be addresses by a single entity but requires collective responsibility.

Thus, the association of colleges, the association of American publishers, and the federal government should work together in addressing this problem (Reid, 2012). These organizations must enlighten campuses to embrace the set state laws regarding textbook affordability. This will ensure that campuses adhere to set regulations (GAO, 2005). The problem of high college textbook prices affects many players thus a solution can only be found if all the affected players work together.

References

Alter, G. (2009). Challenging the Textbook. Educational Leadership 66(8): 50-70. Cornelia, A. (2005). College Text Books: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases. Darby: DIANE Publishing.

Ellen, M. & Loewy, D. (2010). Business Communication: Process and Product. Connceticut: Cengage Learning.

GAO. (2005). College textbooks enhanced offerings appear to drive recent price increases. Darby: DIANE Publishing.

Howle, E. (2006). Affordability of College Textbooks: Textbook Prices Have Risen Significantly in the Last Four Years, but Some Strategies May Help to Control These Costs for Students. Darby: DIANE Publishing.

Kissane, E. & Maplethorpe, C. (2007). Strategies for Reducing Students’ Textbook Costs. Minnesota: Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Kingsbury, A. & Galloway, L. (2006). Textbooks Enter the Digital Era. U.S. News & World Report 141(14): 63-65.

Miller, J. (1992). The price of previously owned texts. BioScience 42(3):192-195.

Reid, C. (2012). Library of America Steps Up Its Digital Effort. Publishers Weekly 259(30): 40-50.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "Addressing the High Cost of College Textbook Prices." November 21, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/addressing-the-high-cost-of-college-textbook-prices/.

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