Report 2007-116 Highlights - August 2008

Affordability of College Textbooks:

Textbook Prices Have Risen Significantly in the Last Four Years, but Some Strategies May Help to Control These Costs for Students


Our review of the affordability of college textbooks in the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community Colleges (community colleges) systems revealed the following:

  • Increases in textbook prices have significantly outpaced median household income, which makes it more likely that some students will forgo or delay attending college because of the financial burden that postsecondary education imposes.
  • Students can somewhat offset rising textbook costs by purchasing used books or purchasing textbooks from third parties that advertise their textbooks with online retailers.
  • Several key players in the textbook industry believe the used textbook market drives up the cost of new textbooks and may play a role in how frequently publishers issue new editions.
  • Of 23 textbooks we reviewed, publishers released a new edition about every four years on average; however, many of the deans, department chairs, and faculty members that we interviewed stated that revisions to textbooks are minimal and are not always warranted.
  • Even though bookstore managers claim that timely textbook adoptions enable them to pay students more for used textbooks and allow them to procure more used books to sell in the next term, the majority of faculty submit textbook adoptions after the initial deadline.
  • Campus bookstores have implemented several strategies to reduce students' textbook costs; however they have not consistently employed them.
  • The community colleges and CSU, with some participation from UC, have explored possible solutions for the rising costs of textbooks, including open educational resources and the Digital Marketplace, both of which offer means of content delivery that differ from that of traditional textbooks.

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