The educational value of textbooks, especially digital ones, is not often worth the high price point.
Fun fact: College is expensive. From tuition to housing to a meal plan, there are enough charges that loans have become a norm in today’s college culture. Enough of a norm that the total cost of student debt in the US, according to Student Loan Hero, reached $1.5 trillion this year. To put that in perspective, the average student loan for the college graduate is $37,172. Yet of the most surprising costs of attending college at any school is that of textbooks.
The College Board estimates that students spend an annual $1,400 on books and supplies. That is, after you’ve spent the $40,000 on tuition, you have to pay $1,400 just to do your homework. If you, like me, are a low-income student and rely on financial aid to cover a substantial part of tuition, then the additional cost of textbooks can be a crushing financial burden.
One of the most disturbing trends in the college textbook world is the rise of access codes replacing paper textbooks. More and more, professors are utilizing these access codes because the systems have the advantage of automatically grading homework, having the textbooks online and lots of interactive tools for the students. However, the ease of use for these codes have some major drawbacks. These access codes cannot be reused or resold, and there is no way to return the book if a student drops or withdraws from a class and has already opened the access code.
Another issue with digital textbooks is that in terms of higher retention and comprehension, all signs point to print. Many studies have been performed on this question, and all have found that overall reading comprehension is lower with reading from a screen than from paper. This is due to the fact that we train our brains to skim through text when reading from a screen, rather than read every word as it is written. How else would one ever get through all of one’s Twitter timeline? This is a major problem for online textbooks, since the primary purpose of a textbook is to teach the material in a way that the learner will retain. In other words: what is the point of taking classes at $20,000 a semester just to forget what was learned in a matter of months? Pass.
As an English major, I spend a lot of money on books. However, I am lucky in the fact that most of my books are in print. This means, for the past year, I have bought the majority of my texts secondhand through sources like Thriftbooks and the TU textbook exchange Facebook group. Perhaps it is telling in the fact that my English professors, the people who know the most about books, opt for print every time.