Textbooks: The hidden cost of pursuing a STEM major

By: Christina

College costs are out of control. While the rising costs of tuition is constantly in the news (just last week in the NYT), one of the often overlooked components of overall college costs is the costs of textbooks. They aren’t covered by most college financial aid packages, while the cost of each textbook can vary wildly making them hard to budget for. The average undergraduate member of the class of 2015 spent over
$10,000 on textbooks alone over their four years according to the College Board. In fact textbook costs have increased by 864% since 1978 — rising faster than tuition prices or the consumer price index (inflation).

At one school, seven of the top 10 most expensive majors by textbook cost at the are STEM majors.


Dan Kopf, Priceonomics; Data: UVA

There are several factors playing into the problem of rising textbook costs.

  1. Professors have almost complete autonomy in assigning the textbook for the class.
  2. Students are pushed to buy the textbook for their course load before the classes start (before they know how much the books are going to be used).
  3. Publishers continue to release updated editions or bundle textbooks with single-use software and other extras that require students to buy the new version (at an average cost of 25% more).
  4. While as many as 65% of students don’t buy all of the required textbooks due to prices,  78% still believed they would generally do worse in class without their own copy of the required text.

Here are some helpful ways to save:

  1. Open textbooks are freely available online through OpenStacks.
  2. Florida gov Rick Scott wants to stop taxing college textbooks (would save the average student $60/year)
  3. Since 2009 students and parents can also qualify for a $2,500 textbook and course material tax credit by filling out IRS form 8863 and filing it with their taxes.

In conclusion, textbooks are incredibly expensive and need to be considered when budgeting for college. Look into ways to get the least expensive, sufficient textbook. If possible, try to contact the professor to see if an ebook, older edition or a copy from the library would suffice. If you absolutely have to buy a new textbook, keep it in top condition so you can sell it and get some money back. Good luck!

The Author:
ChMorra_ACEs_Avatarristina is a Ph.D. candidate studying the interactions between gut bacteria and the human intestine. She is pursuing a career teaching undergraduates.

One thought on “Textbooks: The hidden cost of pursuing a STEM major

  1. Pingback: Who is in charge here? – Tuesday Teaching Tips

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