How Students are Coping with Higher Textbook Prices

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When you finally catch your breath after grasping the expense of college tuition, you start facing the little expenses that add up. One small expense you don’t think much of is that of the textbooks you’ll use in your courses.

Until, of course, you realize how much textbooks cost.


“The average cost for books and supplies for the [2014-2015] academic year is between $1,200 and $1,300,” reported the New York Times.

NBC News reported that textbook prices have increased by 1,041% from early 1977 to mid 2015, and pointed out that it’s been able to happen because students are a captive audience – they must buy the books their professors tell them to buy.


But, surprisingly, this massive increase in textbook prices doesn’t mean students are paying more for textbooks.



How Can You Get Higher Education without Paying High Textbook Prices shares different numbers, saying students paid $563 on textbooks in the 2014-2015 academic year – still very expensive. But it points out that this cost is 20% lower than what students spent on textbooks in the 2007-2008 academic year.


That’s because more and more students turn out to be savvy consumers, who skip traditional stores and find alternative ways to get their textbooks.


  • Go to the Library

One of the best ways to deal with rising textbook prices is to go to the library and borrow a book for free. But libraries have a limited number of books, and not all libraries will let you keep the book throughout the semester.


That doesn’t mean you can’t get there early in the year and try to get your hands on a copy. Maybe you can partner with a few students, where each one commits to borrowing it after the other’s term ends, and to share with the rest.


Another option is to photocopy parts of the book. If it’s a really long book, get in touch with your professor or former students (say, through a student Facebook group) and find out whether you’ll use the entire book in the course. If not, photocopy only the necessary chapters. Keep in notice that most schools allow photocopying for private usage but there are restrictions on how much can be copied.


  • Buy, Sell and Rent Used Books

If you do need the entire book, look it up online and see if you can buy an ebook or used version of it. Or go back to the program’s Facebook group and ask if anyone’s selling the book, or knows someone who’s selling it.


At the end of the semester or the year, sell the books you no longer use yourself, and use that money to buy the next several books you’ll need.


Another option is to rent textbooks online. Amazon offers a textbook renting service, but it’s not the only one. It’s best to check comparison sites like to find the lowest textbook rental prices. also compares textbook prices of new and used books you might want to buy, so you can easily see what’s the best option for you.


  • Get a Tax Return, Scholarship or Grant

Unfortunately, in many universities, you won’t always be able to save on textbook prices entirely.


According to the American IRS (internal revenue service), you or your parents might be eligible for a tax credit of up to $2,500 a year on academic expenses, and up to $1,000 in tax refund. If you’re in the US, click here to check your eligibility.


If you’re in another country, talk to your university’s office and student council to figure out what’s available for you. Even if you can’t get a tax return, there might be a local grant or scholarship you can use in order to buy textbooks.


  • Use Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Wikipedia defines Open Educational Resources as “freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.” It’s a movement that includes open source college textbooks.


According to Wikipedia, an open source textbook – also known as an open textbook – is one that’s distributed for free or at a very low cost, either online or offline.


According to the New York Times, looking for an open source alternative could save you an average of $128 per course.


Nicole Allen, director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, told the New York Times it’s always best to ask your professor if you can use an open source alternative to a costly textbook.


She also pointed out that “some schools participate in an open-source network.” If you’re still in the college choosing stage, it’s something to think about.


While you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks in one university, you’ll spend exactly zero dollars on them in another university. The University of the People, for example, doesn’t charge you for tuition and, since it relies solely on open educational resources (OER), you don’t have to spend any money on textbooks, either.


If you want to avoid becoming a part of the student loan statistics, plan your expenses wisely long term, and consider voting with your wallet.