The reason digital tools are contributing to rising textbook costs

Students at ASU pick out textbooks for their classes Monday / Ashley Knight

Tuition costs aren’t the only factor contributing to rising student debt.

Textbooks are a requirement for university students.

“We have books that are going to be in the upper 300 range like 380/390. I don’t think I have any books that are 400 right now,” said Michal Jarolimek, course materials manager for Boise State’s bookstore.

Books can be an extremely expensive necessity for most degrees.

“We have had a lot that go ‘I can’t afford this textbook,’” said Julie Rekiere, Boise State senior and bookstore employee.

According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -textbook costs have risen 88 percent over the last 10 years – thanks to the additional cost of digital study tools.

“A lot of courses have a digital component,” Jarolimek said. “They like to use what we call adaptive learning components. And those are the digital pieces that go along with the textbook or sometimes they will stand alone from the textbook.”

Jarolimek says digital course material is the publishing industry’s answer to cheaper options – like renting or buying used books online.

“A lot of students are able to find things now through Amazon or EBay and so that’s really hurting the bottom line of the publishing industry so they’re finding new ways to keep their material relevant, and keep it in the industry.”

Their way? Charging student’s additional fees for single-use digital access codes that can’t be purchased at a discounted rate.

“The publishers they try to bundle those together so you have the textbook and the access code together and they do it usually at a discounted price than if you bought them individually,” Rekiere said.

“That’s why publishers are starting to move toward digital content because digital content is something that can’t be resold. So if they can eliminate that used market, then they get all of the market,” Jarolimek said.

The average cost of just an access code is $100.

About a third of university courses require access codes – the most expensive being those in the STEM field.

“With nursing we are the most expensive major at Boise State just due to textbooks and stuff I know my first semester I probably spent over a thousand dollars in books,” Rekiere said.

Jarolimek says the extreme cost of textbooks doesn’t just impact students wallets.

“Many students are going without textbooks which can affect the efficiency, whether they stay enrolled in a course, retention rates, so prices have a lot more to do with college it has to do with retention and success.”

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