Can You Still Require a Textbook for Your Course?

Articles on college students' spending on textbooks continues to be an issue, as I has been for decades. Lately, it seems that the spending on books and course materials is declining, but not because textbooks are cheaper.

As I have posted and presented in years past, more and more students simply skip buying required course materials. Do students have alternatives? There are usually used books to buy - though the constant "new editions" discourage that and buying from college bookstores or publushers is often not much of a savings. 

The scarier alternatives for faculty, colleges and students is that students simply try to get through the course without the materials. Fake it, beg, borrow or steal it. Some students report that they have to take fewer classes (especially true with part-time students). Some students say that the cost of materials is a factor in choosing classes (electives) or sections of a course (required).

Can you still require a textbook for a course? Of course. Can you expect that all the students will own a copy? No.

A new survey of undergraduates on 23 campuses by the National Association of College Stores, found that students spent an average of $563 on course materials during the 2014-15 academic year, compared with $638 the year before.

Some of that decrease may be due to the increasing use of textbook-rental programs and the use of open textbooks. But of those students who did not buy textbooks, the report noted, a greater percentage than in the past said it was because "they believed them to be unnecessary."

I would not recommend that students buy a textbook before the semester and wait to see how critical the readings are to course success.

I have found for my own students (and other surveys seem to agree) that as digital as my students might be, they still prefer print if cost isn't a factor. 

I do not see a significant increase in the use of free and inexpensive open textbooks, and that is unfortunate. That is out of the hands of students and is often a direct result of teachers not being aware of them.

In a time when college bookstores are more likely to be called just the "campus store" because more sales come from clothing, snacks and drinks than books, you would expect the open textbook movement to be gaining strength.

I did a number of presentations to faculty in past years about finding open textbooks to use in their courses. (An older guide I did at PCCC is still online and relevant.) You can start by just searching through some of the most used sources (below), but, yes, it does take some work.

I haven't assigned a textbook in any of my graduate classes in the past 5 years with all readings coming from free online sources including open textbooks. 


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