03:10 PM

Surveys Reveal College Students Spent an Average of $600 on Textbooks for 2015-2016 Academic Year

Students spent an average of $80 less in 2015- 2016 for course materials than in 2014-2015

These surveys confirm that the shift to lower cost digital course materials is clearly benefitting students.
David E. Anderson, Executive Director for Higher Education at AAP

Washington, DC; August 10, 2016 – According to research from independent research firm Student Monitor and the National Association of College Stores (NACS), college students spent on average $600 a year for course materials in the 2015 - 2016 academic year. Using the Student Monitor figures, the amount students spent on course materials was down 12%, or about $80, from $691 in the 2014 – 2015 academic year.

During the 2015 – 2016 academic year:

  • Student Monitor found the average textbook spend for students was $607
  • National Association of College Stores (NACS) Student Watch Report placed the average student spending at $602

“These surveys confirm that the shift to lower cost digital course materials is clearly benefitting students. Students are savvy consumers, so when presented with lower cost digital textbooks, digital discount programs and varied rental options for both print and digital course materials they can save on college expenses,” said David E. Anderson, Executive Director of Higher Education, Association of American Publishers.

For the most recent semester, Spring 2016, Student Monitor reports that students spent an average of $290 on 4.2 textbooks, averaging $69 for each item. The Student Watch survey places the average spend for course materials at $279, or $63 per course.

Educational publishers and learning companies have championed several solutions which are reducing the cost of course materials. Notably, they facilitated the transition to the less-expensive, more engaging digital materials.

The primary reasons for the reduction in student spending include:

  • A shift from the traditional printed textbook to digital learning materials (including eTextbooks): Digital materials are less expensive than printed textbooks and offer numerous interactive features. Three quarters of respondents (75%) in the Student Watch survey said they have used a digital learning component at least once in college.
  • Students are savvy consumers: They compare prices for their course materials and purchase them from a variety of both physical and online markets. The typical student uses a variety of formats, acquired from multiple sources. Student Monitor reported only 16% of students purchased exclusively new textbooks.
  • The rental model: This less expensive option, which includes digital materials as well as print textbooks, is becoming more common. Student Monitor reports that compared to the 48% of students in Spring 2015 who planned to rent next semester, 60% of students in Spring 2016 planned to rent next semester – a 25% jump.

Digital learning products were used more often in the classroom during the 2015-2016 academic year than ever before. They can be used on virtually any device, including a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Content typically includes personalized interactive activities such as quizzes, tests and games, which employ personalized technology to focus on the areas where students need the most attention. Results are then forwarded to the professor in real time. These platforms can also be bundled with a digital or hardcopy textbook or paired with open educational resources.

Student Monitor reports that in Spring 2016, compared to Spring 2015:

  • The share of students purchasing an “eTextbook” for unlimited use increased 63%
  • The share purchasing digital course materials for limited time use increased 100%

Only 8% of students reported using Open Educational Resources (OER) in Spring 2016 according to Student Monitor data. When OER was used in the classroom, the majority of the time commercial materials were also used.

Data from Student Monitor lists the top two reasons students said they did not purchase required textbooks as they shared course materials with other students (30%) and they heard that the professor didn’t use the textbook (27%). Student Watch reported that 74% of students indicated they did not acquire a course material because it was perceived as unnecessary for the course.

About the Reports

Data from the Student Monitor survey was collected from 854 full-time, four-year undergraduate students on 100 campuses using one-on-one intercepts. The margin of error for research is stated as +/- 2.4%.

Data from the Student Watch survey was collected by OnCampus Research®, the research arm of indiCo, a subsidiary of the National Association of College Stores. More than 41,000 responses were collected for the two-wave study. The margin of error is <1.0 at the 95% confidence level.


The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning and education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies. We represent the industry’s priorities on policy, legislative and regulatory issues regionally, nationally and worldwide. These include the protection of intellectual property rights and worldwide copyright enforcement, digital and new technology issues, funding for education and libraries, tax and trade, censorship and literacy. Find us online at www.publishers.org or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.