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Cost of Course Materials Continues Downward Trend

June 26, 2020

Student spending on course materials continued to decline during the 2019-20 academic year, according to a survey report released by OnCampus Research, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores, or NACS, a trade association that represents college retailers. The average annual cost to students for required materials was $413, a decrease of $2 from the previous year, while their average spending on digital course materials and technology for classes increased by $106, the survey found.

Of all the course materials students said they purchased during the 2019-20 academic year, 21 percent were digital, which is a 7 percent increase from the previous year, Brittany Conley, research analyst for NACS OnCampus Research, said during a media briefing Thursday. Student spending on new print materials remained consistent, but used print made up only 39 percent of students’ purchased course materials this year, compared to 47 percent last year, the report said. Conley said the significant increase in digital and decrease in used print purchases in the same year aren’t directly correlated.

The survey also found that students spent more than $100 more on technology for their classes than they did on materials; the difference was around $20 last year. Richard Hershman, NACS vice president for government relations, said this increase is not likely related to the coronavirus pandemic and colleges moving to remote instruction. Eighty-six percent of the 14,000 student responses to the survey came in before March 16, when colleges began to respond to the pandemic, Conley said.

But Hershman does expect to see the effects of COVID-19 on course material spending this upcoming year. Colleges with quarter-based academic calendars that have remained in session longer during the pandemic have been “early testers” of a larger transition to digital materials that could be coming in the fall, Hershman said.

Those that had inclusive access programs and advanced delivery of digital course materials “had a much easier time transitioning to online education more quickly versus schools predominantly using more print materials,” Hershman said.

The number of students who participated in an inclusive access program, which bills students for discounted required materials along with their tuition and fees, reached an all-time high in the 2019-20 academic year. The Student Watch survey has been tracking the growth of inclusive access since 2017, and 26 percent of responding students said they took part in inclusive access this past year versus 15 percent in 2018-19, the report said.

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Greta Anderson

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