The high cost of textbooks has a real impact on the lives of students.
A recent survey of more than 13,000 students at Florida’s public colleges and universities illustrates some of the struggles students face to afford their textbooks and other course materials. Conducted by Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC), the 2022 Student Textbook and Instructional Materials Survey shows some positive news for students overall, such as fewer students spending more than $300 per semester and more benefiting from the use of free open educational resources (OER). However, it also shows that many students continue to face negative consequences that impact their academic success and basic needs.
Comments shared by more than 2,200 survey respondents illustrate some of the individual experiences students face, which are not always visible in statistics and averages. For example, students said:
“Due to the high prices of textbooks, I have changed my major. I can’t afford the high prices of textbooks with my already growing student loan bill.”
“I wanted to do five courses in spring, but after realizing the cost of the textbooks I did three.”
“I’m a single mom and I can only afford to take classes part-time because at times the cost of books is just as much as my classes. I do not receive financial aid because I cannot afford to have any loans. Instead of completing a degree that would normally take 2 years, it will take me 3-4 years.”
“I have not been able to buy any textbooks this semester at all and I am struggling because of it. Last semester I rented a single textbook. I failed my nonparametric statistics class twice because of this as well. I can’t get FAFSA because my parents make too much even though they don’t offer financial contributions to my education. I work full time and go to school full time as well to even afford tuition and gas.”
Survey findings show that these kinds of experiences are all too common. Due to required textbook costs, more than two in five students (44%) said they took fewer classes, nearly one in three (32%) reported earning a poor grade, and nearly a quarter (24%) reported dropping out of a course. Student spending also varies:
“I spent over $400 this spring term for a required membership with a healthcare organization to access their coding lab. I almost dropped the course because of this requirement.”
“I was almost not able to attend the nursing program because the first semester I was required to purchase the $1,800 ‘package’ as well as pay $1,600 for my classes, hundreds more for other supplies and online access, physical, TB test, titers, and over $100 for a background check and drug test.”
“There was one particular semester (my final semester) where my family and I had to utilize our local food bank regularly to put healthy foods in the house because my textbook costs exceeded $500 which was every bit of money I had left in savings and checking accounts.”
To cope with costs, just over half (51%) of surveyed students in 2022 indicated they are buying books from a source other than their on-campus bookstore. Student comments highlight the desire to shop around for used books and other strategies students use to minimize their costs:
“I buy the physical book on whatever platform is cheaper; Amazon, online bookstores, or the school bookstore.”
“My daughter and I are in college. She is a semester behind me and we try to coordinate our classes so that the books are the same to save money.”
“If I share a class with a roommate, we split the bill for the required textbook.”
Students had mixed levels of awareness of whether their campus participated in “Inclusive Access” programs that bill textbook costs automatically to tuition and fees. Of the students who participated in these programs, more than half (53.2%) indicated that they did not feel that the program reduced their overall textbook costs. In the comments, students said:
“I could almost always find them cheaper myself and I was not pleased that they were charging me without really trying to inform me. It took way too many steps to opt-out. Seems suspicious.”
“Didn’t realize I would automatically be opted-in to the program. I thought it was the reverse where opting out was the default and I would have to manually opt-in… I already had my required textbooks since I was taking classes that used the same ones for both courses in a series…So I was charged for materials that I already had that I could have used for other school supplies.”
“I did not like the idea. In our case, we had to opt-out. Students who forgot to opt out were charged much more than other available options cost. In my opinion and in the opinion of many of my peers, these programs are predatory and merely a profit center for the university and bookstore.”
On the positive side, the survey found that a large number of students (44%) were offered open educational resources (OER) or other course materials that are free of charge. Students said:
“The highest mark I have ever given a professor was the class where they had an open source textbook for free.”
“Whenever I see that one of my new classes is using OpenStax I have a sigh of relief.”
“…my grown daughter in Colorado is attending college where all her book materials are provided through OERs. As a full-time student with no income right now, every dollar helps to feed and shelter me and my family.”
The survey was conducted March-May 2022 and included 30 of Florida’s public postsecondary institutions. Most respondents were undergraduates, about half were working on their associate degrees and half were pursuing bachelor’s degrees.