In this digital age, at a time when everybody is tightening their belts, it should come as no surprise that students are buying fewer textbooks. How many fewer? Two recent surveys show that 70 percent of students polled at the University of California, Riverside say the rising costs of higher ed have caused them to skip buying textbooks altogether. And findings from a 2011 Pew survey, “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education,” indicate that 62 percent of college presidents anticipate more than half of textbooks used by their undergraduates will be digital within 10 years.
The UCR surveys include the 2010 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey and a 2011 survey conducted by the office of the vice chancellor of student affairs at UCR. The findings prompted Steven Brint, UCR vice provost for undergraduate education, to issue a report to the UCR faculty in November 2011.
“I wanted the faculty to be aware that the students’ behavior with respect to textbook purchases may be different than they think,” Brint said in a statement. “It is important for faculty to do what they can to make sure that textbooks are available to all students.”
The report resulted in the UCR Campus Store and Student Affairs creating a textbook rental program and an online book exchange, called R’Books, to drastically reduce textbook costs.
Major textbook retailers like Follett and Barnes & Noble have responded to the trend with rental and digital options, and the UCR surveys are no surprise to them. Elio DiStaolo, director of public and campus relations for the Follett Higher Education Group, says providing a variety of choices is their primary goal. “What was a bookstore that sold new and used books is now a campus store that features new and used materials, for purchase or rent, in printed form or digital form,” he says.
This summer, Follett will be rolling out its pilot One Fee program, which will enable students to acquire required materials, which are included in their registration fees, at the time of registration. DiStaolo hopes these efforts will help buck the trend of students going without textbooks. “With our sights on making a large-scale impact on classroom success, this approach can help ensure that each student shows up to class, on day one, with the materials needed for success.”
Barnes & Noble College Booksellers shares this sentiment. “By selecting the lower-cost options, students can often purchase everything needed to meet their course needs,” says Vice President Jade Roth.