Textbook costs: a case of inflation hammering students

Bloomberg NewsSeptember 6, 2013 

Open Book

The cost of college textbooks has more than doubled since the end of 2001 even as prices for other books retreated, illustrating soaring tuition isn’t the only thing to blame for rising higher education bills as the school year begins.

University textbook prices surged 102 percent through July from December 2001 while the costs for recreational books declined 1.5 percent, according to Bloomberg’s Chart of the Day. Over the same period, the consumer price index measuring the cost of all goods and services rose 32 percent.

“We’re on an untenable trajectory – we keep on stretching the proverbial rubber band, and at some point it’s going to come back and hit us in the face and it’s going to hurt,” Watson Scott Swail, president and chief executive officer of the Educational Policy Institute, said of the climbing textbook costs that limit access to education. “It’s one of the reasons that students drop out, because it’s the unforeseen cost.”

Greater availability of digital options for textbooks, as well as a wider market for used books, may help ease cost pressures, the Government Accountability Office said in a June report.

Schools and publishers are offering more information to students regarding textbook costs in order to comply with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which mandated that they provide details such as the alternate textbook formats available and their prices, the GAO said.

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