Student Group Releases New Report on Textbook Prices

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC (2/3)– Earlier today, the Student PIRGs released a new report investigating the real impact of high textbook prices on today’s students. The report, titled Covering the Cost,” is based on a survey of nearly 5,000 students from 132 institutions.

Over the last decade, the price of college textbooks has soared. Since 2006, the cost of a college textbook increased by 73% – over four times the rate of inflation. Today, individual textbooks often cost over $200, sometimes as high as $400.

As a result, college students are feeling the pinch: they can either purchase the necessary textbook and add to their financial hardship, take time away from studying to work extra hours, or go without the book and accept the consequences.

“For many students, high textbook prices mean a lose-lose choice – and as long as the market is controlled by a handful of publishing giants that profit off the backs of students, it’ll stay that way,” said Ethan Senack, Higher Education Advocate at the Student PIRGs and main author of the report.

That’s why, more than a decade ago, the Student PIRGs launched our campaign for textbook affordability to call attention to high prices and to highlight potential solutions to the problem.

However, no research to date — including our own — has attempted to investigate the degree at which prices actually affect student’s financial standing and behavior. This report aims to fill that gap, and make the case for urgent action around high textbook prices.

Key Findings from the Report:

  • Almost one-third (30%) of students replied that they had used financial aid to pay for their textbooks.
  • For those that used financial aid, the amount of financial aid dollars they put toward purchasing textbooks was more than $300 on average per semester.
  • Textbook prices disproportionately impact community college students: 50% of students report using financial aid for books at community colleges, compared to 28% at 4 year public schools. And, on average, community college students use more financial aid than their peers at 4 year schools.

That means that nearly 5.2 million U.S. undergraduate students spend a total of $1.5 billion dollars of financial aid on textbooks every semester, or $3 billion per year.

“Today’s report by PIRG provides further evidence that the growing cost of higher education in America is not limited to tuition,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (IL), “Textbook costs play a major role in the cost of a college education and Congress shouldn’t ignore that impact.” 

There is some good news, however. A solution that has the potential to save students billions already exists – it just needs a fair shot at competing with the textbook monopoly.

Openly licensed textbooks are turning the traditional publishing model on its head. In direct contrast to traditional publishers, who strictly control every facet of access and use of their textbooks and materials, open textbooks are available for free online, are free to download, and are affordable in print.

Open textbooks have the potential to put billions back into student pockets, but that potential won’t be realized unless the higher education community takes an active role in breaking open the market.

“We should promote a system that helps students manage costs by making high quality open textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free.  It is a model that has worked at schools across the country including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in my home state,” said Senator Durbin.

Dr. Edward Neth, a faculty member at the University of Connecticut, recently received a grant to adapt an openly-licensed chemistry textbook for his course. “Now that there are modern, peer-reviewed open-access texts in many of the basic fields of science and mathematics, the adoption of them becomes a more compelling issue. It is clear that open-access materials represent the future, starting with lower-division courses – and in my role as a faculty member, I am pleased to contribute both to awareness about and development of openly licensed educational materials.”

The report makes recommendations for decision-makers at all levels on how to help improve access to open textbooks and to lower textbook costs.

“This report makes one thing clear: we can’t afford to accept the status quo in college textbook publishing any longer,” said advocate Ethan Senack.



The Student PIRGs are independent statewide student organizations that work on issues like environmental protection, higher education affordability, consumer protection, and hunger and homelessness.