06:04 PM

Students Spend $1,200 a Year on Textbooks? Most Don’t - It’s a Myth

The news headlines scream that college students spend “$1,200 a year on textbooks” and something must be done about the high cost of college. Yes, college is expensive, but the frequently cited “$1,200” number is misleading. Here’s why:

The College Board’s $1,200 a year figure for books and supplies in 2015-2016 is an estimated average from university financial aid offices on what students should budget for this college expense category.

  • Supplies includes expenses for computers (including laptops and tablets), peripherals (printers) and lab supplies.
  • The College Board states that expenses in this category “do not necessarily reflect actual student expenditures.”
  • This expense category influences the “total cost of attendance” which affects the amount of financial aid students are eligible for.

Based on actual sales data, college students spend approximately $650 a year on course materials.

  • According to the National Association of College Stores (NACS) Student Watch Survey students spent an average of $323 on course materials, or $77 per course in the Fall 2015 semester. (The most recent sales figures available.)
  • Independent research firm Student Monitor places student spending for Fall 2015 at $317 (The most recent sales figures available.)
  • Compared to 2014-2015 results, it appears students are on track to spend less than ever on course materials.

Based on sales data and student surveys on course material costs; course materials account for less than 4% of overall college expenses.

  • Course materials are just about the only part of college that has seen a decrease in student spending, at 15%. In contrast, one year of college has increased 23% for two and four year public/private schools from 2012/2013 to 2014/2015 academic year, with an average tuition of $13,587. Tuition alone is 32% of the total cost of college.
  • Research from Student Monitor shows that the average cost per unit for an eTextbook was less than the cost of a new textbook. With six out of ten students using at least one digital component during the 2015 to 2016 school year, and more transitioning each year, trends indicate that student spending will continue to decline.