Valencia Smith and Audrianna Walker lamented Friday after leaving the Georgia Regents University bookstore, where each paid about $500 on course materials for this semester.
Both sophomores have student loans to help cover textbook costs, on-campus housing and tuition. Smith and Walker, who held two bags of books each, estimated their student debt had topped $10,000 after just three semesters.
“Coming here and getting books, you dig your own grave,” said Walker, a pre-nursing student.
“It’s ridiculously expensive,” agreed Smith, who is studying kinesiology.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the cost of college textbooks increased by more than 800 percent from 1978 to 2012. According to the nonprofit College Board, undergraduate students will spend between $1,225 and $1,328 this year on books and supplies.
A 2014 Student Public Interest Research Groups report found that high textbook expenses kept 65 percent of students from buying or renting a book, though nearly all of them felt that doing so would hurt their grade.
“A lot of times students think that they can get away without using their textbook, and they struggle,” said Michelle Neely, the retail operations manager for GRU’s Jagstore on the Summerville campus. “Textbooks are so expensive, and it’s that ‘What do I live without?’ It’s too bad that they feel they have to live without their textbook and then struggle through the class.”
As a result, Neely said GRU students are increasingly turning to rental books and digital versions, called e-books.
At the GRU on-campus bookstore, where some new textbooks cost upwards of $300, Neely said students could save 25 percent by buying used books and up to 75 percent by renting instead of buying. The store’s rental program has expanded in the past two years to 300 textbooks, Neely said.
As national student loan debt soars above $1 trillion, more cost-friendly alternatives to the traditional print copy will likely keep increasing in popularity.
“The popular method right now is still used books,” Neely said. “Rental is maybe going to overshadow that probably by next fall, and the e-book is starting to creep up. … Within the next two years, I’m probably going to see where the e-book option is going to be more asked for.”
The National Association of College Stores said this summer that annual course material spending by students has dropped to $563 – a $75 decrease from last year and a $138 decline from seven years ago.
Although 46 percent of students still prefer print editions, the use of digital course materials has slowly but steadily increased to about 3 percent this academic year, the trade organization said. Convenience, low cost and versatility ranked as the top three reasons for why students opt for digital.
Smith and Walker said they have turned to the Internet in the past for buying books, using sites such as Chegg and Amazon to find cheaper versions, but did not have time to wait for the shipment to arrive this semester.
The friends said they also trade books with classmates to cut costs.
“Knowing we’re all in the same boat and in the same situation, I probably wouldn’t have them buy it from me,” Smith said. “I would give it to them.”
Daniel Fordham, in his second year of pre-medicine at GRU, said he spent a little more than $700 on books for five classes this semester. He estimates that he saved $200 by buying loose-leaf textbooks instead of hardbound copies.
“I didn’t want to rent because I plan on keeping them,” said Fordham, who is switching careers from an information technology background. “A lot of them are going to be good for referencing.”