Campus stores adapt to new student spending trends

Supporting students who turn to rentals, used books, digital materials and open educational resources

Reducing costs, while increasing student retention and success, is a challenge facing every higher ed institution. Providing accessible and affordable course materials is an important part of this complex issue. On that we can all agree.

But making decisions based on misinformation doesn’t serve anyone well, least of all students.

Conventional wisdom tells us students aren’t buying course materials because they are too expensive. They are forced to drop or not take classes or go without needed materials. But research tells a different story.

Before you consider making changes to the way your campus provides course materials, consider these facts.

Students still buy, but spend less

On average, students spent $77 per course, or $323 total, on materials in fall 2015, according to the latest National Association of College Stores’ semiannual report, “Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials.”

Student spending on course materials is actually declining, decreasing nearly 20 percent over the past seven years. But it’s not because students are buying considerably fewer materials; they purchased or rented roughly the same number of materials in fall 2015 as in fall 2009.

So why the downward spending trend? Because students are selecting materials more strategically and taking advantage of lower-cost options—including used books, rentals, digital course materials and open educational resources.

Value, necessity and faculty drive decisions

About 25 percent of students elected not to purchase one or more of their course materials during fall 2015, but the primary reason for that decision wasn’t the price. Some 74 percent decided the material was unnecessary and, in many of those cases, said they were told by a professor or other students that it wasn’t needed.

At the same time, 72 percent of students say they do plan to purchase all of their course materials in the coming term. Instructors play a major role in influencing whether students acquire and use their course materials.

And faculty will ultimately move the needle toward lower-cost digital options. While students still overwhelmingly prefer printed textbooks, 93 percent of students acquire and use digital materials when their instructors use them in class.

Students trust the campus store

The campus store plays an influential role in helping students buy or rent course materials. Seventy-six percent of students say the physical or online campus store is their preferred source of course materials.

In fact, 80 percent of students say having a physical campus store that sells course materials is very important. It is a trusted resource that offers convenient access to a broad range of materials. This is important, especially as emerging materials—such as faculty-tailored OER textbooks—are introduced to students.

What’s your next move?

Today’s students are savvy shoppers who are looking for the best value. Work with your campus store to find the best solutions to fit your individual campus.

In addition, the National Association of College Stores has resources including publications, research and more to help you and your campus store make the best decision for your students.

Average number of required course materials purchased and rented

Fall 2009: 5.3

Fall 2013: 5.0

Fall 2014: 5.3

Fall 2015: 4.7

Elizabeth Riddle is the director of OnCampus Research, a division of The National Association of College Stores.

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