Will Online College Courses Help Reduce Textbook Prices?

Every college graduate knows about the games schools and textbook publishers play when it comes to revenue. The average textbook company comes out with a new version of each of their books every few years, even if the information has hardly changed. And your professor plays along, requiring the new textbook for their classroom, usually because the textbook company spent huge sums of money convincing them any new material they added warrants the change. 

Heck, sometimes the college professor pens their own textbook, requires students to buy it, and enriches themselves in the process. And it doesn’t hurt if that textbook isn’t readily available in the library or elsewhere students might be able to use it for free.

You’re not imagining it if you feel like the cost of textbooks has ballooned over the last few years. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that, nationwide, consumer prices for college textbooks increased 88 percent from 2006 to 2016. During that time, college tuition and fees — which are also following a dangerous trend — went up 63 percent.

On average, students at four-year schools spend around $1,230 on textbooks and supplies each year, according to the latest figures from CollegeBoard. But, the latest numbers are for last year, and many are wondering if online college brought on by Covid-19 might actually bring textbook prices down for everyone.

While the textbook industry would obviously hate for that to happen, the realities of pursuing higher education in the midst of a pandemic might bring this change regardless. Like it or not, students attending school virtually don’t have a lot of incentive to purchase a big, bulky textbook when most of their materials are presented online. 

With that in mind, maybe — just maybe — Covid-19 will actually have a positive impact in this tiny part of our lives. If online school could bring down textbook prices, it would be a huge win for college students who desperately need a break.

The Internet Has Made Finding Cheap Books Easier

According to trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine, who is director of the Avant-Guide Institute, the past few years has seen a “cat-and-mouse game” between textbook publishers looking to jack up prices and students looking for workarounds. 

“The students are winning,” says Levine. That’s because, if you look at the trends, they are better aligned with students who are finding more and better online resources that can help them beat the system.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to find cheap ways to access college textbooks these days, after all, and a lot of new options have come to fruition due to technology. You can buy used textbooks online through places like Chegg
CHGG
and even eBay.com, and you can even rent college textbooks through Amazon.com

Sympathetic professors often don’t even require textbooks at all, or they make it easy for students to access materials online — and this was even before the pandemic took hold. 

But, Levine says the pandemic is accelerating this trend. 

“The fact that students are being pushed into digital learning has a knock-on effect of pushing them into digital textbooks,” he says. “And spending more time in front of screens gives them more opportunity to discover hidden digital resources.”

Further, paper textbooks really are out-of-date, and there are so many reasons why. Monica Eaton-Cardone of Chargebacks 911, a consumer fraud tracking agency, says that college-aged students have been raised on a steady diet of multimedia tech, and it’s readily apparent to them that a pile of pages of dead trees is inherently limited. 

“It can’t update itself. It can’t show video,” she said. “It’s a stoic, one-way conversation — the polar antithesis of what young people are used to today.” 

Movement To Open Educational Resources (OER)

Schools who planned to transition online this year due to Covid-19 had the entire summer to figure out ways to present their materials, whether that includes Zoom meetings, message boards, their own platforms, or the many other options available. It’s likely that some of them will have moved a lot of their course material entirely to the web, which could eliminate the need for physical textbooks altogether for some classes. 

But there was a major move toward free college textbooks that predates the pandemic, according to Brian Galvin, the Chief Academic Officer for Varsity Tutors. Galvin says that the biggest lever colleges have to pull is the popularity of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, which has seen professors choose to teach courses using e-textbooks that are essentially “open-source” and made available by nonprofits that aim to reduce the cost of learning.

“As classes move online and students attend from far from the campus bookstore, progressive professors may well see this as a great opportunity to shift to OERs and away from the traditional textbooks,” says Galvin. 

However, as professors adapt their in-person lessons to an online format, it remains to be seen how many will be able to spend additional time reviewing new materials. For that reason, any major shift to free textbooks could take years or decades to come to fruition.

Don’t Overpay For Textbooks This Year

If you’re gearing up for college and you want to avoid having to fork over up to $1,200 for textbooks and supplies, you don’t have to rely on your school to do the right thing. As we mentioned already, the internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding cheap ways to learn, whether you decide to rent your textbooks or buy used books from someone else. 

As you consider all your options, make sure to email your college professor to ask if an older edition of a textbook will suffice. If that’s the case, you could easily save a bundle by buying a used book from a few years back. Many professors who are tired of watching their students get fleeced seem to be ready to help them find alternatives, but you’ll never know if yours will unless you ask.

No matter what you do, don’t head to your college bookstore website to stock up on “required” reading without looking for a less expensive way to learn. With a little legwork, you may find the exact books you need or something close for a fraction of the price.

— to www.forbes.com

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