The Price Students Pay for Textbooks

Langara Library has noticed that students are increasingly expecting and wanting copies of their textbooks in the library. This has always been the case – textbooks are expensive, they’re heavy to carry around – but the demand seems to grow each year.

In early 2016, the Florida Virtual Campus, a statewide academic support service, polled students across Florida’s 40 public post-secondary institutions about textbook affordability and use. The results, available on the Florida Virtual Campus Distance Learning and Student Services website, are quite astonishing.

Some key findings:

  • 66.6% of students who answered the survey don’t purchase the required textbook and 47.6% of students take fewer courses because of the cost of textbooks.
  • The cost of textbooks has a negative impact on student success, with 37.6% earning a poor grade and 19.8% failing a course because they did not buy the textbook.
  • The costs of textbooks themselves are going up, with respondents to the 2016 survey reporting that they spent more on textbooks than respondents in a similar survey from 2012, often upwards of $300 per term.
  • Students report that when they do buy the required textbooks, an average of 2.6 textbooks are not used at all during their academic career.
  • The costs are worse for college students than university students, with 56.3% of college students spending $301 or more per term on textbooks and other course materials compared to 50.5% of university students.

Students in Canada face similar financial barriers. The Canadian Federation of Students reports that the cost of textbooks have increased by “2.44 times the rate of inflation since 2008.”

Langara Library does provide access to some required textbooks, but we generally do not purchase textbooks for our collection as the cost is prohibitive. Our collection development guidelines have more details. We are happy to work with instructors to find alternate materials including open textbooks and other open educational resources.

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