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Text Book Prices: A Call to Action Research Paper


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 “college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades, following close behind increases in tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions” (Cornelia 2).

GAO’s report revealed that since the academic year of 1987-1988, textbook prices have had an annul increase of 6 percent (Cornelia 2). In the same period, tuition and fees had a 7 percent annual increase (Cornelia 2). 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 2). In general, this represents a 72 percent increase in the cost of postsecondary education in the United States (Cornelia 2).

According to Howle, “increases in textbook prices for college students have surpassed increases in the median household income, and when combined with rising student fees, constitute a financial burden that could cause some students to delay or abandon pursing postsecondary education”(19).

In addition, Howle 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 indicated that it might cost $692 to $902 on textbooks per year for individuals who wish to purse college education in the US (60). Howle’s study found out that this phenomenon has made some students delay the completion of their college education or prevent them from attending college.

GAO’s report also revealed the increase in the cost of postsecondary education textbooks varies depending on the type of institution one attends (Cornelia 2). 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 2).

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 2). 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 2). 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. In addition, the cost of tuition and fees has also increased tremendously. As a result, the general cost of college education is extremely high. Stakeholders in the education sector need to address the rising cost of college textbook prices so as to lower the cost of college education.

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 4).

However, according to GAO’s findings, the introduction of new features such as websites and other instructional supplements are amongst the leading factors, which have contributed to an increase in the cost of textbooks. In addition, GAO noted that an increase in production cost significantly affects textbook pricing (Cornelia 4). “Other factors which have been found to affect textbook pricing include a high demand for college textbooks and the unavailability of used books” (Cornelia 4).

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 4). 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 a new edition 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 4).

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 complex comprising many publishers, retailers, and used textbooks wholesalers” (Cornelia 4).

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 4). “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 65).

Such companies often pay a commission to the host college and this is another factor that contributes to high college textbook prices. The pricing of textbooks is determined by several players including retailers, wholesalers, and publishers (Kingsbury and Galloway 65).

Most publishers are forced to add technological improvements to their textbooks in order to remain relevant in the current dynamic education sector (Kingsbury and Galloway 65). 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 25 percent of the total cost of a new book” (Cornelia 4). However, this approach does not solve the problem. This is due to the fact that “retailers might not be in a position to stock a sufficient number of used books to meet the high demand in the market” (Cornelia 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.

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 40).

Collectively, these entities should direct campuses to “communicate the provisions contained within recent state laws regarding textbook affordability to ensure that all faculties are aware of the existence these laws and the steps they can possibly take to reduce textbook prices” (Howler 65).

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 (65)”.

Howler 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 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 196). Furthermore, colleges should “evaluate the feasibility of implementing book rental programs or student book exchange programs to the extent that they have already not done so” (Alter 66).

In conclusion, this paper has noted that the prices of college textbooks in the US have increased steadily in the last two decades. At the same time, the cost of tuition and fees has also increased steadily. According to Howle, “increases in textbook prices for college students have surpassed increases in the median household income, and when combined with rising student fees, constitute a financial burden that could cause some students to delay or abandon pursing a post secondary education”(19).

In addition, Howle 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 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 4). However, according to GAO’s findings, the introduction of new features such as websites and other instructional supplements are amongst the leading factors, which have contributed to an increase in the cost of textbooks (Cornelia 4).

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 40).

Collectively, these entities should direct campuses to “communicate the provisions contained within recent state laws regarding textbook affordability to ensure that all faculties are aware of the existence these laws and the steps they can possibly take to reduce textbook prices” (Howler 65). College bookstores should harmonize their pricing models so that all textbooks with the same content have the same price.

Works Cited

Alter, Gloria. “Challenging the Textbook.” Educational Leadership 66.8 (2009): 50-70. Web.

Cornelia, Ashby. College Text Books: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases. Darby: DIANE Publishing, 2005. Web.

Howle, Elaine. 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, 2006. Web.

Kingsbury, Alex and Galloway, Lindsey. “Textbooks Enter the Digital Era.” U.S. News & World Report 141.14 (2006): 63-65. Web.

Miller, Joel. “The price of previously owned texts.” BioScience 42.3 (1992):192-195. Web.

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

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IvyPanda. (2018, November 21). Text Book Prices: A Call to Action. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/text-book-prices-a-call-to-action/

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"Text Book Prices: A Call to Action." IvyPanda, 21 Nov. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/text-book-prices-a-call-to-action/.

1. IvyPanda. "Text Book Prices: A Call to Action." November 21, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/text-book-prices-a-call-to-action/.


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IvyPanda. "Text Book Prices: A Call to Action." November 21, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/text-book-prices-a-call-to-action/.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "Text Book Prices: A Call to Action." November 21, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/text-book-prices-a-call-to-action/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'Text Book Prices: A Call to Action'. 21 November.

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