Student spending on course materials is decreasing

John Swanson | Photo Courtesy
Many students may be opting to rent textbooks over buying them new.

Students have many options when it comes to buying course materials

Data from the independent research firm Student Monitor found that amidst the pandemic and distance learning, students are saving money on course materials. The data shows that during the fall 2020 semester students spent 7% less on course materials than they did the previous year. In 2020 students spent around $413 across the academic year on course materials while a decade ago students spent almost $700.

Student Monitor and Student Watch both reported a 35%-39% decrease in annual spending on course materials since 2014.

Part of the reason for this decline is the many options available to students to save money. Eric Weil, managing partner at Student Monitor, talked about the various ways students can save money when it comes to textbooks.

While Weil doesn’t think that the pandemic has directly lead to the decrease in course material spending, he does think students are starting to realize the cost-effective options they have saying, “I think more students are aware they exist.”

Among the many formats students can purchase for course materials include print copies which students can either rent used or buy from their campus bookstore or from outside sources such as Amazon.

“We see students buying different formats at the same time,” Weil said adding that they found that generally “nobody buys 100% new or 100% used or rents 100%.” Weil explained that cost matters when college students shop for their course materials as this can have a large impact on where they buy their books.

There is also Inclusive Access, Open Educational Resource’s (OER’s) and subscriptions that students can buy to have access to their course materials on a digital device.

Inclusive Access allows students to have access to their course materials on the first day of class at a discounted price. When it comes to Inclusive Access, Weil explained that faculty, campus bookstores and publishers must all be happy in order for it to work.

When looking at other options that allow students to save on course materials, Weil mentioned eTextbooks which have been bought by more students because of digital learning.

OER’S are another option for students as these are any type of educational materials that exist in the public domain. Although OER’s also aimed at helping students save money, Weil said there isn’t a lot of awareness on them and OER’s aren’t universally embraced by all students.

Students can also buy subscriptions that offer unlimited access to textbooks, open course materials and online homework access codes for one price.

As for the future of course materials spending, Weil said that he thinks the trend will continue. As Weil explained about educational publishers, “Their primary goal is to get the book into as many student’s hands as possible.”

The findings from Student Monitor result from campus interviews conducted among 1,200 four-year full-time undergraduates attending 100 representative colleges and universities.

Check out some of the findings at and

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