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More Students Skip Buying Textbooks During Pandemic

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The average full-time, on-campus undergraduate at a four-year school is estimated to have spent $1,240 on books and supplies during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to survey data from the College Board.(Adobe Stock)
The average full-time, on-campus undergraduate at a four-year school is estimated to have spent $1,240 on books and supplies during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to survey data from the College Board.(Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN - Producer, Contact
March 9, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A new survey finds 65% of students reported skipping buying a textbook last year because of the cost.

Lack of competition in the college publishing industry has led to skyrocketing book and online program prices, which have increased at three times the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

More students also are avoiding purchasing access codes during the pandemic.

Cailyn Nagle, affordable textbooks campaign director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which conducting the poll of more than 5,000 students, said the number of students who report not buying an access code increased from 17% in 2019 to 21% in 2020.

"So these are passwords students have to pay for to access their homework, quizzes, the textbook itself, and sometimes exams," Nagle explained.

She noted food-insecure students skipped buying textbooks at much higher rates, with 82% of students who reported missing a meal due to the pandemic also reported skipping buying textbooks due to cost.

Nagle reported the percentage of food-insecure students who avoided buying access codes is nearly twice the national average.

She pointed out broadband access is an additional barrier to class participation during the pandemic, noting among students without reliable internet, 30% reported not buying an access code.

"Students who already have this barrier of lack of reliable internet also are facing this cost barrier to participating in the classes for which they already paid tuition," Nagle asserted.

Nagle believes states and institutions should provide funding for free and open textbooks, address the lack of universal access to the internet and other technologies, and put safeguards in place for the widespread use of commercial programs.

"It is ridiculous and unacceptable that students are at risk of failing a class because they don't have $100 to pay for the homework," Nagle contended. "The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issues, but it didn't create them."

Students are concerned not buying course materials will negatively impact their grades. Ninety percent reported being significantly or somewhat concerned, while 79% of students reported being impacted in some way by COVID-19.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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