Real Talk: Students and Textbook Costs

Students sharing how much they’ve spent on textbooks in one semester alone.

To celebrate Open Education Week (March 4-8), librarians at each campus library had fun activities, collected data from students on textbook costs, and shared information on free and inexpensive textbooks. We also shared how students could find and register for GSU courses that use free or affordable course materials in PAWS 

Librarians spoke to hundreds of students who eagerly shared with us the burden of high textbook costs. When asked what has happened when they couldn’t afford their course textbook(s) many students answered that they had taken fewer classes, gotten a lower grade, not registered for a specific class, or had even failed a class. We also asked students what was the most amount of money they spent on textbooks in one semester. The majority of students spent $100-599 on textbooks, with a few spending up to $800-$1,000. 

“Remember I am an adult with significant outside priorities!”

Instruction Librarian Scott Pieper talks with Decatur students about Open Education Week.

Because of high textbook costs students find creative ways to acquire the materials assigned to them by their instructor. Several students reported sharing a textbook with a friend, using the library’s copy (and in most cases they can only be used in the library and for 2-hour increments), or even illegally downloading copies of the materials.  

Atlanta students share what they want from instructors assigning textbooks.

Student comments for faculty.

While this information was eye opening and somewhat distressing, we kept the mood fun by asking students to tell us what they could have spent their money on if they weren’t #TextbookBroke. The answers ranged from necessities like rent, bills, and car repairs to larger goals like investments and stocks. On the less serious side, one student replied that they could have spent their textbook money on a new wig while another could have spent it on games. 

“I spent $600 on textbooks, when I could’ve spent it on my car insurance.”

Students would rather spend their money on bus fare, their kids, and groceries.

We hope that students and faculty have learned more about open content and affordable learning materials and their impact on student’s lives and college success. We enjoyed hearing from students and we will continue to advocate for increased use of affordable textbook options.  If you missed our librarians this week, please visit our Open Education Week Research Guide for examples of free online textbooks.   

Two Newton students looking at open access textbooks.

Alpharetta students making Open Education Week Buttons.

For more information on open and affordable course content in higher education please reach out to our Education Librarian and Affordable Learning Georgia Library Coordinator Denise Dimsdale at mdimsdale@gsu.edu 

-Jennifer W. Brown, Decatur campus Instruction & Reference Librarian

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