National Association of College Stores’ (NACS) twice-yearly survey of college students in the U.S.
The study, Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials: Spring 2015 shows that average annual spending by students on required course materials has dropped from $701 in 2007/2008 to $563 in 2014/2015. The $563 average also dropped approximately $75, from $638, between the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 academic years.
While student spending on course materials has declined, the number of course materials being acquired has remained consistent across fall academic terms. In Fall 2009, students obtained 5.3 course materials; 5.0 were acquired in Fall 2013, and students purchased 5.3 in Fall 2014. These numbers exclude course materials obtained for free (borrowing, downloading, sharing).
“This is a true reflection of a decrease in prices,” Riddle says. “This number has remained relatively consistent over time; however, student spending on course materials has continued to drop. So this information suggests that on average, the cost of course materials is slowly decreasing while the number of required course materials students are obtaining for each class may be slightly increasing.”
Other factors influencing the trend in declining student spending include:
- Faculty are more aware of student cost concerns and are working with campus stores to source less costly materials and use the same course materials for multiple semesters.
- College stores are increasing used course material options and enhanced buyback pricing.
- Students have become savvier shoppers, spending more time researching affordable options through multiple outlets. Price comparison software has enabled much of this flexibility.
- Open Educational Resources (OER), digital formats, and borrowed materials have combined to help students spend less overall on required materials.
While 46% of students say they prefer print course materials because of the usability and familiarity of print (despite a likely higher price tag), use of digital course materials are slowly but steadily climbing in use, about three percent this academic year.
The survey found that when it comes to digital course materials, convenience is the primary reason behind their purchase. The ability to easily transport the material is the top reason for going digital, with price ranking second in importance and the versatility of the digital functionality, like search and find, coming in third. Students who prefer digital appreciate the interactive nature of the materials, which they indicate improves their ability to study and learn the coursework, Riddle said.
Digital access codes are also being required for more classes and obtained by more students, according to the study. During the spring 2015 term, 59% of students were assigned a digital component to their coursework, and 80% of them acquired at least one.
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