College Students Spent 23% Less On Textbooks In Fall 2019

New data shows that students have spent an average of 23% less on college textbooks and other course materials for the fall semester of 2019 than they did at the same time last year.

It’s a continuation of a larger trend: Students’ total expenditures for these materials have dropped 29% across the past five years.

The data, which is out from independent research firm Student Monitor and was announced in a release from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), shows the average student paid $205 for fall 2019 materials, compared to an average of $265 for the fall 2018 semester.

What’s causing this undeniable trend towards lower spending on college materials? The Association of American Publishers has a few answers: It cites “initiatives such as Inclusive Access,” which is a program that offers students course materials on the first day of the semester, usually at a reduced cost. Textbook publishers are also pivoting to all-you-can-read subscription models as well, which offer an unlimited selection of textbooks at a set cost.

One potential factor not mentioned in the AAP release is the rise of textbook piracy. While the exact numbers are tough to pin down, more and more students are illegally downloading free copies of textbooks.

This is no doubt due at least in part to the sky-high costs of university textbooks: Their prices have risen more than 1500% since 1970, a rate three times at of inflation.

Students are spending less across the board, regardless of whether they’re paying for print or ebooks, rented or new. When that average $205 spent on materials in fall 2019 was broken down into six categories, each category showed a drop from the previous year’s average amount spent: An average of $87 went towards new, print textbooks; while $42 went towards used, print textbooks; $39 was spent on rented, print textbooks; $19 on eTextbooks with unlimited use; $12 on eTextbooks with limited-time use; and $6 on online homework solutions, the AAP reported.

The Student Monitor report was compiled from in-person, on-campus interviews with full-time undergraduates currently attending 93 universities and colleges.

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