College Costs:  Books and Course Materials

College Costs: Books and Course Materials

BooksThis blog continues the analysis of a survey of student living expenses.  See my previous blog for the first section of the report on housing, food and transportation costs.

We asked you to tell us how much you spend in a typical semester on books and supplies related to being a Trinity student.  You told us!  And the responses are very important to shape our understanding of what it really costs to attend Trinity.  Overall, 70% of the students who answered the survey said they spend $600 or less on books and supplies per semester.  21% overall spend up to $1000 and 9% spend more than $1000.

One of the biggest complaints about books is not just the cost, but also what happens when a book is on the required purchase list but then is not used, or used only briefly in a course.  We are working with faculty to make sure that they actually use the books they ask students to purchase.

But there are some significant variances by academic units and programs as we found when we looked at the data by academic unit:

How much do you spend in a typical semester on books and supplies related to being a student at Trinity?
$300-$600 $700-$1000 More than $1000
CAS 77% 17% 6%
NHP 40% 40% 20%
SPS 89% 6% 5%
BGS 80% 20% 0%
EDU 75% 25% 0%

Nursing clearly costs more than other disciplines for books and academic materials, with the majority of Nursing students reporting that they spend upwards of $1000 or more per semester on books and supplies.  Nursing students who want to be successful know they cannot skimp on these expenses.  Nursing students have very stringent knowledge, skill and competency requirements in every single course, and they take continuous testing using ATI materials to practice for the licensure exam known as NCLEX.  Nursing students report their most expensive purchases include book bundles, Med-Surge books, Pathophysiology and the ATI materials.  Nursing students also have expenses for their required uniforms, medical tests and background checks, and transportation to clinical assignments.

I asked Dr. Mary Romanello, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions, to address the concerns about the high costs associated with Nursing and health professions books and materials.  Her reply:

“NHP faculty utilize textboooks across multiple courses.  The med-surg text is used in NURS 350 and NURS 361.  Students need to refer to their anatomy and physiology textbook throughout their program.  The nursing bundle is used is NURS 117 and NURS 222.  The EHR tutor is used throughout the program for medical documentation. OT and OTA use a textbook by Willard and Spackman in 2-3 of their intervention courses.  Faculty review multiple publishers’ course resource offerings to find the best options to prepare students for their national exam while trying to keep costs as low as possible.”

Among other students, some cited the costs of MyMathLab, MyStatLab, some Sociology textbooks, some bundles with textbooks and online access codes, some Biology books, some Psychology books, books for a French class, a Spanish text that cost more than $200, some Business textbooks, and others.

Some students say that they do not purchase books at all.  This is a serious issue that we’d like to know more about.  If you are a student who is unable to afford books, please let us know.  You can visit or send a note to Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Karen Gerlach ( if you need help with book purchasing.

Administrative Responses to the Issues on the Cost of Textbooks and Course Materials

I asked Trinity Provost Carlota Ocampo to explain what Trinity is doing to help all students manage the cost of books more effectively.  Her response:

“As Provost, I am keenly aware of the high cost of textbooks and the hardship this causes students.  In fact, I still remember my own college days when I struggled to afford the expensive books my courses required.  I am highly motivated to reduce textbook costs while at the same time ensuring that Trinity provides the highest quality education possible.  My office does this in a number of ways.  For example, we analyze the cost of texts each semester, and when we find texts that stand out, we work to identify less expensive alternatives:  used copies, rentals, e-books, open access resources, etc.  Trinity’s library has strongly focused on open access resources as it partners with the faculty in supporting the curriculum  – Trinity’s librarians seek out and compile sites where faculty and students can explore and adopt high-quality, peer-reviewed, open access digital books, journals, and educational materials.  In most cases, these resources can be freely accessed on devices such as tablets, pads and cell phones, or can be downloaded at minimal cost.  The library conducts information sessions and workshops with instructors to encourage adoption of these resources.    While we have moved the needle somewhat on lowering the overall cost of texts, there is still work to be done.  It is always helpful to know when students need help, so please let your program chair or dean know when a particular text is too expensive.  Once we know where the problems lie, we can work to address them!”

The academic deans are also very much on top of this issue.  Dr. Sita Ramamurti, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has addressed specific issues with faculty particularly around the high cost of online access codes along with course textbooks.  In some notable cases, Dean Ramamurti and the faculty were able to find much cheaper alternatives after some research.

School of Education Dean Nicole Strange-Martin has a philosophy about books that we all share:  “As a conscious educator, leader, absolute literacy lover (aficionado) … my goal has always been to deliberately evaluate textbooks used in our academic programs.   In fact, affordability initiatives remain at the forefront of my mind while offering the best content information is key!  Faculty want the best for you!  We all want the best for our new leaders and global-citizens.”

Dr. Peggy Lewis, Executive Dean of the School of Professional Studies and School of Business and Graduate Studies wants students to know that, “Deans and program chairs carefully research textbooks for each course. It is a big decision that we take seriously. We look for content clarity, accuracy, relevance, and readability. And we  consider whether the cost is reasonable. We were once students who struggled to pay for books so we get it. We also look for comparable open source resources and have found some excellent ones with the help of our librarians. But we also want to know if a required textbook is not being used in a course. Students have a responsibility to get the assigned textbook and read what is required on the syllabus. And if there is a problem, they need to let us know about it so we can try to resolve the issue quickly.”

Trinity’s academic leadership team and I will continue to work with the faculty to make sure that the books we ask you to purchase for your courses are reasonably priced and used in the courses for which you purchase them.

The problem of high textbook costs is rampant throughout higher education, and the publishing industry seems immune from criticism on this topic. We will continue to advocate for open source materials, lower prices and better value for our students.

A final note on my own philosophy about books:

Books are essential to great learning — contrary to a few comments some students made on the survey, it is simply not possible to do without books!  Books — in print or online as you wish — contain the treasury of human knowledge.  Our role and responsibility as your teachers is NOT to regurgitate all of that knowledge for you to absorb, but rather, to teach you how to be self-actualized learners, how to discover and find knowledge, how to keep learning throughout your lifetime.   Reading — every day, constantly, across a wide range of subjects —- is essential for intellectual growth and development.  It’s not enough to read Facebook or Twitter or online media outlets, important though some of those sources may be.  Reading REAL BOOKS with real content, deep and complex ideas, research and criticism, is essential to become the well-educated professionals and citizen leaders we expect Trinity students to be.

I say all of this as somebody with dozens of books downloaded to my smartphone at any given time, both digital versions and audible books, as well as hundreds of hard copy books begging for my attention in the office and at home.  I graduated from Trinity a long time ago, and I have learned far more since graduation day than I ever could have known then — but it’s thanks to the habits of intellectual curiosity and critical reading that  developed at Trinity that I’ve been able to keep growing intellectually and to expand my world view and base of knowledge.  This is the essential lifelong foundation of a Trinity education!  We will help you figure out how to get the books, one way or the other — but never skip books, they are essential for academic success and an educated life!

NEXT:  other expenses associated with going to college….