Average student spending on college textbooks and digital course materials has steadily declined in recent years, according to new data unveiled in a recent press release from Student Watch, which is funded by the National Association of College Stores Foundation, and Student Monitor, an independent research firm.
In its new annual report, Student Watch reports a decline in student spending on course materials of 35% over the past six years, while Student Monitor’s semi-annual report similarly indicates a 39% decline over the same time period.
“Students are actually spending less on college course materials than we have seen them spend before,” said Brittany Conley, Research Analyst, On Campus Research for the National Association of College Stores (NACS). “We saw that students spent about $413 across the academic year on course materials. Ten years ago, that number was closer to $700.”
“Students’ out of pocket spending for learning materials and textbooks continues to decline year after year after year,” commented Eric Weil, Managing Partner, Student Monitor LLC.
The new data on the multi-year decline in student spending is highlighted in a video interview with representatives from the two research organizations, which can be seen here.
The 2020 Student Watch survey involved more than 14,000 students across 35 institutions.
The Student Monitor findings are the result of hour-long, one-on-one, on-campus intercept interviews conducted among 1,202 four-year, full-time undergraduates attending 93 representative colleges and universities.
“Numbers are going to differ in studies like these just based on general methodology,” Student Watch’s Conley said. “What you really want to look at are things like overall trends in where the data’s going, what it looks like. And in the case of Student Watch and Student Monitor, we’re seeing the overall trends be consistent. Both of us are reporting a decline in course material spending, which is what you really want to look at when you’re comparing the two and seeing if they’re telling the same story.”
Education publishers know students struggle with the overall cost of college and have for years worked to lower the cost of the high-quality course materials they produce while creating increasingly innovative options to access.
“Students have at least 10 different options or combination of options when it comes to deciding what textbooks or course materials they are going to acquire,” said Student Monitor’s Weil. “They can purchase a new printed textbook, a used printed textbook. They can rent a textbook instead of purchasing a printed textbook. They can acquire an e-Textbook for either limited or unlimited use. They can take advantage of one of these new subscription programs providing unlimited access to print and digital for either a single term or the entire academic year for a flat subscription price. From a student’s perspective, nothing could be more convenient than a subscription model that provides you everything that you need at a discounted price.”
According to the Student Monitor report, the $422 in average student spending during the 2019-2020 school year included $174 for new, printed textbooks; $95 for used, printed textbooks; $67 for rented, printed textbooks; $39 for eTextbooks for unlimited use; and $24 for eTextbooks for limited time use.
Student Watch reports that during the 2019-2020 school year, students embraced a wide range of options, mixing print, digital, rental and purchase. About 48% preferred some type of print book, while 21% of students preferred digital-only content. During the year, 80% of students purchased course materials during the year, and 44% rented course materials.
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