UTSA Libraries & Textbooks

Innovative Strategies to Support Roadrunners

Cost of Higher Education

Photo of coins in increasingly higher stacks with plants emerging from the coins A U.S Department of Education study conducted in 2006 estimated that as many as 2.4 million students would not finish college during the first decade of the 21st century due to college affordability issues. While students cite many stressors that contribute to higher education cost overall, course materials costs surpass housing and food in triggering stress. Textbooks are the one area where faculty are key decision-makers and can impact the lives of students.

Rising Textbook Costs

According to an NBC News Report, the average cost of textbooks rose three times faster than the rate of inflation between 1977 and 2015, increasing faster than the consumer price index for tuition, healthcare, or housing, for a total rise of 1045% during that period. As a result, 65% of college students skipped purchasing required textbooks at some point due to cost.

Personal Impacts

According to a 2021 Student Public Interest Research Group report that surveyed 4,000 students across 83 institutions, students cited the impacts of textbook costs presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Impact of Textbooks
Student Response Percentage Responding
Skipped buying a textbook 63%
Skipped buying an access code 21%
Worried foregoing purchase of course materials would negatively impact their grade 90%
Worked extra hours 25%
Prioritized purchasing access codes over other course materials 22%
Chose classes based on their course materials cost 19%
Skipped meals 11%

Student post-it from 2018 crowdfunding initiative with UTSA SGA

Food Insecurity at UTSA

Relatedly food insecurity is affecting UTSA students’ ability to purchase textbooks, as evidenced by the Whataburger Resource Room (Whataburger Resource Room). To help raise awareness, UTSA Libraries partnered with UTSA Student Government to host a textbook event. At the event, many students reported that they paid $300 or more for a single UTSA textbook. We also asked students to share what they would have done with the money otherwise. Food was the most cited need that students neglected in order to purchase textbooks.


Figure 1: Student post-it from 2018 crowdfunding initiative with UTSA SGA

Learning Impacts

According to the Florida Virtual Campus Survey, the burden of textbooks is also hampering academic success, persistence, and retention (2018). 

Table 2: Florida Virtual Campus Survey Summarized Responses
Response Percentage Responding
Not purchase the required textbook 64.25%
Take fewer courses 42.76%
Not register for a specific course 40.55%
Earn a poor grade because I could not afford to buy the textbook 35.62%
Drop a course 22.91%

Additional Readings

Advisory Committee on Student Financial Aid Assistance. (2006). “Mortgaging our future: How financial barriers to college undercut Americans' global competitiveness.”

Florida Virtual Campus. (2018). Student textbook and course materials survey: results and findings. 

National Association of College Stores. (2018). Student watch: Attitudes and behaviors toward course materials.

NBC News. (2015). “College textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977.”

Student PIRGs. (2021). “Fixing the broken textbook market.” Student Public Interest Research Groups.