09/19/2014 02:22 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Options to Reduce Higher Education Textbook Costs

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Paying for higher education is a major life expense and investment; however, the unknown costs to pay for textbooks can be overwhelming. How much money did you spend on textbooks? If you're like me, you spent hundreds of dollars a semester to purchase books that either weren't used, weren't really needed, or weren't engaging so that the book didn't get used.

There are several challenges associated with textbook costs:

  • First, the costs of textbooks are generally very expensive and sometimes cost prohibitive for students. For example, an Introduction to Business textbook can be priced in the range of 60 -- $200 with many books priced well-over $100.
  • Second, textbooks change quickly --- even if there aren't major changes. These frequent updates lead to sharp decreases in the resale value of textbooks, which lead to significant or complete losses for students who wish to resale textbooks to the institution's bookstore at the end of a term.
  • Third, required textbooks aren't always used enough to justify the expenditure.

Given these points, are there options to reduce textbook costs? The answer is 'yes'; although, the options aren't desirable for publishers or bookstore revenues.

Potential options to reduce textbook costs are to:

  • Use versions for multiple years -- this isn't an ideal solution for most publishers; however, institutions of higher learning can use its collective purchasing power to encourage publishers to reduce the frequency of new textbooks that don't have significant changes. The benefit of this approach is that books might maintain most of its value and students can potentially recoup more of the purchase price;
  • Migrate to e-books only -- technology has advanced to allow flexibility of the delivery of books in various electronic formats, which has the added benefit to reduce the amount of destroyed trees while also pursuing more sustainable options;
  • Purchase books to rent to students -- books could be purchased by educational institutions to align with the estimated enrollments for each course. This approach could reduce educational costs for students and also support the use of textbooks over multiple years;
  • Develop course material to provide to students -- professors are experts of their course material; as such, lecture packets could be created and given to students as part of the course cost. Then, students -- at their option -- could obtain additional recommended study materials, which might include purchasing a textbook, renting a textbook, or using free resources;
  • Factor textbook cost into the tuition -- students could be charged a textbook usage fee that would be added to a semester's tuition cost. Then, textbooks could be provided to students similar to the way it's done in public schools. The student's cost would be based on the number of courses taken, which could also include a markup to cover administrative overhead.

The cost to pursue higher education is significant, which can burden students with debt for years -- if not decades -- after completion. This is a major reason that innovative solutions need to be explored to reduce textbook costs, prevent waste, minimize expenses, and maximize the return on a student's educational investment.

Higher education is a great investment that can increase knowledge, improve lives, and create better futures. Nevertheless, the associated costs for students to attend institutions of higher learning must be properly managed. If the goal is to educate, then the objective should be to minimize costs to make institutions of higher learning more accessible. Therefore, it's prudent that methods to reduce educational costs -- including the cost of textbooks -- be actively explored so that more individuals have access to institutions of higher learning without worrying about the potential to be burdened by significant student debt for years after graduation.

This post originally appeared on S. L. Young's blog on his website at: