Stopping the Runaway Train of College Textbook Prices

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  • Published : January 28, 2013
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Stopping the Runaway Train of College Textbook Prices
Chris Rozendaal
University of Macau

Stopping the Runaway Train of College Textbook Prices
International students studying in U.S. universities often face many challenges. Although their experiences vary tremendously, one thing that these students almost universally find shocking is the price of textbooks in the U.S.

Their shock is entirely justified. The College Board (n.d.) estimates that students at American universities spend an average of around $1000 on books and supplies each year, and some universities ask students to budget even more than that. For some subjects, textbooks can cost upwards of $150 each (Lomakina, 2010), and textbook prices have increased rapidly (Koch, 2006; Maplethorpe, 2007).

These high prices place considerable financial burden on both students and universities. One study found that the cost of books and supplies was 26% of the cost of tuition at public 4-year universities in the U.S., and noted that students must make this investment at the beginning of the semester, often before financial aid is disbursed (Maplethorpe, 2007). Much of this cost ends up getting passed on to the universities and to the U.S. Government through financial aid (Koch, 2006).

Why are college textbooks so expensive? The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, an advisory group to congress and the Department of Education, has cited a number of reasons (Koch, 2006). These reasons include the inelastic demand for textbooks; oligopolistic markets in both publishing and wholesaling of textbooks; the fact that the people choosing the products (professors) are not actually paying for them; and the fact that new editions can effectively remove market competition coming from used textbooks. The committee further notes that price increases have been partially driven by “bundling” (including extras, such as workbooks, DVDs and websites, even to students who will never use them) (Koch,...
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