Of course your student needs textbooks in college . . . maybe.

Textbooks are expensive. The cost of producing most textbooks is high and the costs are passed along to the students.  One study conducted by the College Board has estimated that most students should expect to spend approximately $1,200 annually on textbooks.  Some students are taken by surprise, and may feel that this is an additional, and therefore optional cost.

Because of the high cost of textbooks, many students are opting out of buying books.  The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) found that approximately 30% of seniors and 25% of First Year students said that they did not purchase books. The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), in a non-scientific survey of 1,905 students at 13 colleges found that 70% of students said they opted out of books for at least one course.  However, 78% of those students believed that they would not do as well in that course without the book.

Choosing not to purchase the textbook involves some risk. Not all material may be covered in class; students may not be able to complete all assignments or may have trouble preparing for exams.

Some students may choose not to purchase textbooks simply because they have that option.  Students are told they should buy the textbook, and the syllabus may say it is required, but the choice is still theirs and some students choose to exert their independence.  However, another reason that students may not purchase a textbook for a particular course may be that it isn’t really used.  Although almost every college course requires a textbook of some sort, some college professors never use or refer to it.  Students learn quickly the courses in which they can skip the book.

Some students who choose to skip buying the textbook use other means to obtain the material.  Some are able to find sections of the material available online.  According to a Book Industry Study Group, as much as 34% of students may download pirated material illegally.

There are other, less risky means which students may use to obtain course materials without purchasing a textbook.  An increasing number of students now rent textbooks – either in hard copy or electronic version.  Some college libraries make copies of textbooks available. This requires students to do their work in the library, but can save the cost.  One study suggested that up to 31% of students said they photocopied or scanned materials from other students.

Students who choose to purchase their books are also becoming increasingly creative.  Some buy used copies of books.  Used books may be purchased through the college bookstore, but often even more inexpensively through many online sources.  Some campuses even have swap sites where students can find others who have just completed a course to buy their book.  Students may share the cost of a book with someone if they feel they can coordinate study time.