Student Spending on College Textbooks Declines for Third Consecutive Year

Student Spending on Course Materials has Declined Significantly over Past 10 Years, from about $700 to $500 Annually

Average Amount Spent on Each Course Material Unit Declines from $66 in 2016-2017 Academic Year to $64 in the 2017-2018 Academic Year

WASHINGTON--()--According to two new studies, college students spent an average of $500 on textbooks and course materials during the 2017-2018 academic year. This new data, from the National Association of College Stores (NACS) and independent research firm Student Monitor®, found that student spending on materials declined for the third consecutive year. The average amount students spent on a course material unit was $64 – a 3% decline over the prior academic year according to Student Monitor.

  • The Student Watch survey from NACS reported a $95 decline in student spending on required course materials to $484 in the 2017-2018 academic year, compared to $579 in the 2016-2017 academic year.
  • Student Monitor reported a $36 decline in spending on course materials to $507 in the 2017-2018 academic year, down from $543 in the 2016-2017 academic year.

By contrast, students reported spending an additional $612 on technology and school supplies (like laptops and USB drives) in 2017-2018, $106 (or 21%) more than the previous academic year according to Student Watch. This makes course materials one of the only areas of reduced spending for students.

The findings from Student Watch and Student Monitor are consistent with recently released data from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which tracked spending from two years ago in the 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. The survey found that undergraduate students spent $555 in the 2015-2016 academic year on required course materials, including print-only textbooks, digital textbooks, and other required materials.

Publishers have played an important role in reducing student spending. Today, more colleges participate in publishers’ innovative Inclusive Access programs and more students take advantage of options to rent rather than buy both print and digital textbooks. Publishers continue to produce a variety of content, including digital materials and platforms that incorporate Open Educational Resources (OER). Some additional reasons are:

  • Competitive retail markets reduces costs: Students shop around for the best prices. Student Monitor found in its survey of students in spring 2018 that 39% of students “purchased a print textbook significantly cheaper than list price.” Student Watch found that almost half (49%) of students purchased course materials from more than one vendor, and a quarter rented from multiple sources. They also found that students who used a price comparison tool available at their college campus bookstore spent on average $46 less than those who did not.
  • Inclusive Access saves students up to 80%: Students at more than 500 campuses now participate in an Inclusive Access program, which includes the cost of course materials in tuition. The discounts are significant, with one university citing discounts of 50 – 80% for participating students. The program is popular among students, with 91% of students interested in having less expensive course materials that were included in the cost of tuition, according to Student Watch.
  • Students have more options: Course materials are available in a variety of formats and sources. Students can purchase new or used print textbooks; rent new or used print textbooks; rent or purchase digital materials; and purchase subscriptions. Other options include integrated OER and black and white print copies of materials. Student Watch found that typically 40% – 45% of students rent one or more of their course materials and 55% of students have used some type of digital course content.

About the Reports

Data from the Student Monitor survey was collected from 1,020 full-time, four-year undergraduates enrolled at 100 representative campuses nationally using one-on-one intercepts with a margin of error of +/- 2.4%.

Data from the Student Watch survey was collected by OnCampus Research®, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores. More than 34,000 responses were collected across 63 higher education institutions in 29 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces for the two-wave study. The margin of error is <1.0 at the 95% confidence level.

About AAP

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents the leading book, journal, and education publishers in the United States on matters of law and policy, advocating for outcomes that incentivize the publication of creative expression, professional content, and learning solutions. As essential participants in local markets and the global economy, our members invest in and inspire the exchange of ideas, transforming the world we live in one word at a time. Find us online at or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.


Association of American Publishers
Marisa Bluestone, 202-220-4558

Release Summary

Two new studies found college students spent around $500 on textbooks & course materials during the 2017-2018 academic year, down for the 3rd year.


Association of American Publishers
Marisa Bluestone, 202-220-4558