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College textbook costs impacting academics, class loads according to study


MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) -- There’s growing concern about how the cost of textbooks is affecting college students, their grades, and their ability to afford a full schedule of classes. That from a recent study by a division of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, known as WISPIRG Students.

Sarah Dobjensky from WISPIRG Students was involved in the study, and says money is tight for college students, and expensive books make it harder to get your education. “The cost of textbooks is just too much, plain and simple, for most students, and it’s really having an impact on academics. The average student spends over $1,200 dollars per year on their textbooks, and the prices of those books over the past decade have increased at three times the rate of inflation.”

Dobjensky says the cost of books is not only affecting grades, but it is determining how many class credits students can afford to carry. “What we found is that it’s actually impacting their academics, so students are deciding against buying the books, even though they worry that not buying the books will impact their grade. Students are also making decisions about which classes to take and how many classes to take based on the cost of their textbooks, so it’s really having a pretty big impact.”

The WISPIRG study shows textbook publishers have a corner on the market, and can charge as much as they want, which can be nearly $200 per textbook. Dobjensky says there is a growing movement to use “open source” textbooks which are available for many subjects online or at very low cost. She says for this lower-cost option to catch on more, colleges and professors need to learn which open source textbooks are available and start using them.“Some professors in Wisconsin have started using these alternatives, but right now, there’s not a lot of education about the alternatives that are available. A lot of professors don’t know about it, and then there’s also just not as much content as we would like, so not every class has an open source textbook available.”

Open source textbooks are written by faculty, and reviewed by peers like regular textbooks.

The survey of students showed 82% would do better in class if the textbook was free to download from the Internet and the printed version was optional.

Some degree programs at the University of Minnesota, University System of Maryland, and Tacoma Community College in Washington already have extensive use of open source college textbooks.

(Our interview with Sarah Dobjensky can be heard on our website, here.)