The Problem: Traditional Textbooks Cost Too Much

  • Nationwide, college students spend an average of over $1200 per year on textbooks
  • On average, textbooks cost $85 each, although prices can go as high as $300+
  • 65% of students in a national survey reported they did not buy a required textbook due to cost; of those students, 94% were concerned it would affect their grade

Sources: The College Board; The National Association of College Stores; Student PIRGs

College textbook costs increased 88% between 2006 and 2016, compared to a 21% increase in the general Consumer Price Index during that period. The increase in college tuition and fees was also higher than the general CPI increase. Neither index dropped during the 2008 recession.

Graph of prices

Click on the chart to access an interactive version on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Northeastern Students Agree

Northeastern students' responses to the high costs of textbooks and associated course materials are in alignment with national opinion polls.

"College Textbook Prices Have Risen 1,041 Percent Since 1977" — this 2015 NBC News story featured a Northeastern student interviewed about the costs of textbooks

The Library surveyed Northeastern students in the Fall 2016 semester and found they had a variety of strategies to deal with high textbook costs.

Chart indicating the range of strategies employed by students to cope with high textbook costs. 84% of students sought free PDFs online at least some of the time.

This survey question also offered an "Other" option. Of the 432 students who responded "Other" and provided more detail, 185 said they comparison shopped online; 165 said they chose to rent rather than purchase a textbook. Other answers included borrowing textbooks from a library (not just Snell Library), either directly or through interlibrary loan, and buying lower-priced international editions of textbooks.

Some students used the text box with this question to elaborate on their strategies for coping with high textbook costs:

"I literally just don't buy textbooks unless absolutely necessary (i.e. problems in the textbook count for a grade)."

"Paying as much for textbooks as we do is ridiculous, I avoid buying them whenever humanly possible."

"I have stopped buying textbooks after purchasing $200+ [worth of] books freshman year and then not using them."

"I always seek out free or low cost options like borrowing or splitting costs with a friend first."

"Delay until the instructor specifies whether the book is necessary" / "Only get the text if it is actually needed in the course and not just 'required'" / "Wait to see how necessary it is for the class"  / "Return after 1 week if not relevant" / "Do a semester's worth of work on the 2-week free trial"

"Make copies of another student's book" / "Ask seniors who have taken these courses for free PDFs" / "Go to the bookstore and take pictures of required pages" / "Piracy (hey, at least I'm honest)"

"Pray I don't need it"

"Max out my credit card"

"Put myself into debt"