The Soaring Cost Of Textbooks

And there’s no signs of slowing down

The price of purchasing textbooks is insanely high. According to the College Board, full-time undergraduate students can expect to pay $1,200 each year for books and supplies, and that number jumps up literally every year, as you’ll see in the GOOD data visualization above.

But seeing how rapidly the cost of textbooks has risen over the past 10 years is hardly surprising when you consider how they’ve exploded more than 1,000 percent since the 1970s. It’s a national problem that gets written about in outlets like TIME, U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg and more. There have even been studies published about the issue.

Once such study from 2009 was conducted by the University of Michigan, and it examined possible reasons for the exponential increase in textbook prices. University of Michigan researchers found that cost hikes could be attributed to publishers running off more updated editions of books, which precludes students from being able to buy used copies, and a trend toward selling textbooks as bundles with additional instructional materials such as workbooks. In both situations, students actually required the extra materials and newer editions less than half the time. But they couldn’t exactly get their money back at the end of the term.

In that same study, a professor from the California Institute of Technology named Preston McAfee compared the book publishers to prescription drug manufacturers, saying that, “Both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of ‘moral hazards’—that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.”

Then just last year in an interview with CNN about the atrocious cost of school supplies, the CEO of a textbook supply company called Boundless echoed that same sentiment. "Professors are not price-sensitive and they then assign and students have no say," said Ariel Diaz. So, the assigning educators aren’t considering the costs of the books they require students to buy, and publishers are pushing newer editions with superfluous materials to make a few more bucks, and this same exact problem has been allowed to metastasize for years? Got it!

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Produced by Gabriel Reilich

Graphics by Jake Infusino

Julian Meehan

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