07:53 PM

Back to Campus 2016 Fact Sheet

By Marisa Bluestone, Communications Director

This time of year, as college students are preparing to go back to campus, AAP gets many questions from reporters about trends in course materials. They're curious how much students are spending on their textbooks, whether or not we're seeing an increase in digital products and wwhether students prefer print or digital. Below are some of the most common questions and how we are answering them just ahead of the fall 2016 semester. 

Have textbook prices risen this year?

According to independent research firm Student Monitor, the cost of textbooks has generally remained flat. In 2006-2007 students spent on average $61 on a textbook. In 2015-2016 they spent on average $69 on a textbook.

Bottom line, what are students spending per year on their course materials?

According to recent surveys from Student Monitor and Student Watch, students spent an average of $600 on course materials during the 2015-2016 year. To put these costs in context - a year’s worth of course materials cost, on average, about as much as a new iPhone.

What about the often cited $1,200/1,300 a year?

The College Board’s figure for “books and supplies” in 2015-2016 is often used incorrectly. As the College Board itself states, it is an estimated average from university financial aid offices on what students should budget - not what they actually spend. It factors in supplies, which includes expenses for tablets, peripherals (like printers) and lab supplies. It’s also a number used to help calculate financial aid.

Are students buying fewer textbooks in 2016 because they think they are too expensive/unnecessary?

The most recent Student Monitor survey found that students purchased 89% of their required course materials. While for some students costs may be a barrier, students are savvy consumers and find alternative options including borrowing materials from friends or determining that certain books are not necessary.

What options do students have other than purchasing a new textbook?

Students can often choose less expensive and more engaging digital learning materials. The number of students who rent their materials is also increasing. Other affordable options include black-and-white editions, print-it-yourself downloadable editions, and individual online chapters.

Why is it necessary to revise a textbook so often?

Generally, higher education publishers issue new editions of traditional textbooks every three or four years. Revisions are typically made for two reasons: new information is available and content needs to be updated, or because there are ways of teaching the material that are proven to help with student understanding and retention. In disciplines like medicine, law or accounting, regulations and technology are constantly changing and it is important for students to have the most up-to-date information. In publishers’ digital offerings, this information can be updated much more quickly and easily without having to print a full new edition.

Do students prefer print or digital?

Though it varies by student, a data from the Student Watch survey notes that 40 percent of students still prefer a printed textbook format. They say this because it’s easier to study from (58%), easier to navigate/flip through (46%), and it’s easier to read print than a screen (42%).

Those who prefer digital like it because it is easier to carry and more portable (56%), lower priced (45%), and environmentally friendly (36%).

Are digital learning materials more or less expensive than print?

Typically, digital materials are less expensive than print. Students cite the lower cost as one reason why they prefer digital materials.

What is OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that they are released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and anyone can legally copy, use, adapt and re-share them freely without compensating the creator or rights holder.

OER can include courseware (e.g. textbooks, tests, tutorials); learning objects (e.g. supplemental and modular learning resources); and multimedia (e.g. audio, video, online animation) that may reside on diverse technical platforms. The production and maintenance of OER is typically funded by grants from government or philanthropies, venture capital, tuition or some combination of these.

Will OER replace textbooks?

We don’t think so. Educators are not faced with an “either/or” choice when it comes to OER and materials produced by professional learning companies. Learning companies often partner with open source producers to create content-rich digital products.

One thing to keep in mind is that even when OER are provided free to teachers and students, they are not truly free. They still must be developed, formatted, integrated with other systems and regularly revised. The money to do this has to come from somewhere, and this usually falls to taxpayers, student tuition and fees or philanthropic organizations.

Why should students pay for textbooks when there is free OER available?

There is a vast amount of free educational content available online. However, the right content may be hard to find or there isn’t enough high quality content on a specific subject. Many faculty find there is still a need for professionally researched and vetted materials produced by learning companies. OER may be the right solution for some professors or universities, but this isn’t always the case.

Reporters who have additional questions, or would like to speak directly to someone at AAP, should email me at mbluestone@publishers.org.

To download a .pdf of these questions, click here.