Bundle the Cost of Books into Tuition, Already

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group

Virtually every college and university is concerned with retention and graduation rates. Many meetings have been held, and programs initiated, and retention officers hired to improve retention rates. One of the easiest steps you can take to increase your retention and graduation rates is to include the cost of books in your tuition.

  • The U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a study finding that 65% of college students skipped buying some or all textbooks.
  • This should not be surprising, as the cost of textbooks has soared over the last 50 years at three times the rate of inflation.
  • The cost of textbooks has risen at more than four times the rate of inflation since 2006.
  • The average cost for books is now over $1,200 according to The College Board.
  • Students elected not to buy books despite their belief that it would hurt their ability to be academically successful.
  • A survey by VitalSource showed that 50% of students who delayed textbook purchases saw their grades drop.
  • Data from 2019 indicated that 63% of students said they opted not to purchase books.
  • We should not be surprised that so many students experience academic difficulties when so many start classes without the basic tools necessary for success.

There are now a variety of companies and publishers willing to partner with colleges and universities to offer affordable digital, paper or combination options.

It will be important to involve faculty in the process of changing the institutional approach to book purchases, as moving to digital-only vendors or vendors offering reduced pricing may limit textbook choice. Faculty may need to make some compromises to ensure every student is provided with all textbooks.

The Department of Education has issued rules for
institutions interested in including the cost of books in

  • The institution must be able to show that it can offer the books at below-market rates.
  • You must include a mechanism for students to opt-out.

This is a good time to research the possibilities for providing textbooks for all your students. It is a relatively easy but important step towards better retention outcomes.

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