As the price of college education increases, more and more students are becoming concerned for their future. The problem has just expanded beyond the creation of custom made essays – now they have to worry about financing their education, too! Some decide to forgo tertiary education and their dreams of better lives for their families. Others choose to pursue their dreams, sacrificing the financial stability of their families. What makes college education expensive? While many blame the unreasonably high price of college textbooks and other student resources, data says otherwise.

In a recent article published by the Atlantic it was said, “According to a recent College Board report, university students typically spend as much as $1,200 a year total on textbooks”. This claim was seconded by the US News where it said, “In a survey of more than 2,000 college students in 33 states and 156 different campuses, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found the average student spends as much as $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies alone”.
While the rising cost of textbooks are certainly a cause for concern, available data shows that the course material prices may not actually be as expensive as was reported in the news. In fact, many sources show that students only spend an average of $600 per year on textbooks, not the reported $1,200. To give light to this issue, let us first look at the College Board report.

The College Board Reference

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In this chart released by the College Board, one can see immediately where the $1,200 amount comes from. Because the light blue chart for “Books and Supplies” ranges from $1,225 to $1,328, reports quoted the median price, but failed to take note of the addendum at the bottom which says, “Other expense categories are the average amounts allotted in determining total cost of attendance and do not necessarily reflect actual student expenditures”. From this information, one can deduce that some students actually spend more than $1,200 for their books and supplies, but there may be others who spend lower than the specified amount. Moreover, these are budget estimates that cover for both books and supplies – there is no indication that the majority of the amount was used to purchase books or student resources.
How much then, do college students spend for books? The College Board points to the National Association of College Stores as a credible source.

The National Associaton of College Stores (NACS)

In a recent survey conducted by NACS, it was discovered that the prices of new textbooks have increased from $62 in 2011 to

$68 in 2012. This data is more reliable because it came from actual sales of college stores.

Other data sources

The NACS data shows us that textbook prices are indeed increasing, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains that this is due to the increase in the consumer price index (CPI). BLS data shows that prices for new textbooks increase at roughly 6% annually, with the price doubling every 11 years. Because the average inflation rate in the US is at 2%, this essentially means that textbook prices increase at roughly three times the usual rate. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) corroborates this claim, but as of writing, the reason for this high inflation has largely been unexplained.

What do students actually spend on textbooks?

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The various data sources explored above does not substantiate the claim that students are paying more and more per year for their textbooks. In fact, according to the Student Monitor, more and more students are opting not to acquire textbooks for their classes, thanks to various options available such as rentals, courseware and digital textbooks. The latest available data from NACS (Fall of 2014) shows that “students spent an average of $313 on their required source materials” while “an average of $358 was used to purchase necessary but not required technology. This data was collected from a questionnaire responded to by more than 12,000 college students. Meanwhile, the Student Monitor shows that for the same period (Fall, 2014) students spent an average of $320 per term for textbooks. This data was collected from group interviews. Respondents for both the NACS and Student Monitor were aged 18 to 24 years old.

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It is clear from these data sources that while textbook prices are increasing at a higher rate than the usual inflation rate, increasing costs for college education is due to other reasons. One can only hope that the higher tuition rates are utilized to provide college students with more skilled teachers as well as better campus facilities.