Media Contacts
Ethan Senack

Students Demand Lower Cost Alternatives

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs

Washington DC (January 27) – Today, a survey released by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 65% of student consumers have opted out of buying a college textbook due to its high price, and of those students, 94% say they suffer academically.

Over the past decade, college textbook prices have increased by 82%, or at three times the rate of inflation. Textbooks are one of the largest out-of-pocket expenses for students and families trying to afford college every year.

Recently, alternatives to brand-new, print edition textbooks have become widely available through rental programs, used book markets, and e-textbooks. While these markets offer students upfront savings, their prices are still dictated by the prices of the new print editions.

“Despite the growth of used book programs, rental markets, and e-textbooks, student consumers are still captive to the high prices of the traditional market,” stated Ethan Senack, higher education associate for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and author of the report.

“If we’re going to actually ease the burden of high textbook prices, we need to give students a better, low-cost alternative outside of the traditional market. That alternative is open textbooks.”

Open textbooks are faculty-written and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks, but they are published under an open license, meaning they are free online, free to download, and affordable in print. 82% of survey respondents said they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional, which is exactly how open textbooks work.

Open textbooks save students $100 per student, per course on average.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (IL) noted the need for change. Students and faculty today have access to more information than ever about the costs of college textbooks. Even though this information can help steer students towards used books or rental programs, the cost of new textbooks continues to skyrocket. According to the students surveyed in this report, the rising cost of textbooks not only adds to the overall financial burden of attending college, it can also have a measurably negative impact on their academic performance and student outcomes. In order to have the biggest impact on changing this trend, we need to increase investments in open textbooks and give students access to the high-quality, low-cost alternatives they need and demand.”

Students are spending $1,200 on average on books and supplies this year, according to the College Board.  That’s equivalent to 14% of tuition at a four-year, public college – and 39% of tuition at community college.

The report notes that spending growth has slowed slightly in the past 5 years, and credits the increase in rental program offerings, both on campus and online. 

However, the publishing industry continues to control the marketplace, as prices on new print versions of books dictate prices for used books.

Samantha Zwerling, currently the Student Body President at the University of Maryland College Park and the Director of Legislative affairs at the Association of Big Ten Students, noted that the ABTS recently voted to advocate for open textbooks on campuses and in the federal legislature. “As some of the largest schools in the country, we wanted to make a commitment to fighting for open textbooks on a larger scale. We’re calling on policy makers on campus, in states, and in the federal government to make the same commitment.”

I believe that high-quality course materials are essential, and I want to be sure that all my students have access to those materials,” said Irene Duranczyk, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, switched to an open textbook in fall of 2012. That’s why I started using an open textbook in my class, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from students,” she said.

Senack urged students to demand more open textbooks on campus, and urged policy makers on campus, in state legislatures, and in Congress to increase the resources that faculty need to make the switch.

Students can’t afford to let the publishers call the shots on textbook prices anymore,” he explained.

A copy of the report, “Fixing the Broken Textbooks Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives,” is available on our website at


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U.S. PIRG Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.