Back-to-School, Back-to-Debt: The Persistent Problem of High Textbook Costs for U.S. College Students

Re-tooling the burden of college costs is a hot topic on the presidential trail, and recent numbers suggest more than just tuition is the problem.

Anyone with an eye on college savings won’t like the numbers: the staggering costs of college textbooks, which have increased 812 percent since 1978, or three times the rate of inflation, according to federal government data.

It’s a crash course in economics many students get before they even step foot in a classroom. On the campus of UIC, students who recently purchased textbooks had a lot to say about the topic. One telling NBC5 “they want to break us before they make us!”

The pricey problem is the focus of a recent US PIRG study that reveals students who are already struggling to afford college costs are making choices that could undermine their educations, just to offset the cost of textbooks. Sixty-five percent of the 2,000 students surveyed said they didn’t buy a textbook because it was too expensive, and almost half said the cost of books impacted how many or which classes they took.

So what to do? The pricey problem gave rise to a new online industry aimed at helping college students fight the persistent costs.

"Students should never pay full price for textbooks. It's absurd that many of them do," Peter Corrigan of the University Network said.
"We are searching hundreds of different textbooks in an instant to find the cheapest price available for the college student"

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is co-sponsor of the Affordable College Textbook Act. The Act was originally introduced in 2013, but is scheduled to be re-introduced as early as next week. The proposed legislation would create a grant program for the creation and use of open textbooks at colleges across the country. An open textbook is a textbook that is under an open copyright license, and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public. The Senator’s office says open textbooks are in use at University of Illinois campuses.
One little-known fact that can help ease the pain: families and students 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.

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