AAP Report Finds Students Are Still Spending Less on Course Materials

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Amid a boom of options in formats and distribution of course materials, a third of student spending on education content has evaporated.

Image – iStockphoto: Craig RJD

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Rental is Prevalent for Many Students
Our Publishing Perspectives readers last heard in December from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) on the issue of deterioration expenditures by students on course materials.

At that point, the report focused on autumn semester statistics, and the news was not good. In partnership with Student Monitor, an independent firm that performs national studies for government agencies and nonprofits, the AAP had determined that there had been a 23-percent slide in course-material expenditures by students, year over year, from the autumn of 2018 to the autumn of 2019.

Today (June 16), a new annual report from  Student Watch—funded by Student Monitor and the National Association of College Stores Foundation (NACS)—takes a longer-range look. And the news is even worse.

In six years, the annual report tells us, students’ spending on course materials has declined 35 percent. More than a third of it is gone.

Compare that to the next semi-annual report from Student Monitor and it’s even a bit worse: a 39-percent drop over the same time frame.

Ten years ago, says Brittany Conley, a research analyst for the college stores foundation, students were spending some US$700 on learning materials and textbooks. In her newest figures? They’re spending $413.

Image: Association of American Publishers

The Association of American Publishers’ interest here, of course, lies in its education-facing constituency, which may be a bigger component of the membership than trade-oriented observers perceive.

Representing “the leading consumer, educational, professional, and scholarly publishers in the United States,” some would notice that “educational, professional, and scholarly” are a weighty constituency, as is seen, for example, in the annual PROSE Awards, which this year had 157 titles as finalists in 49 subject categories contested this year by 630 submissions.

As it turns out, the multiple reports around the course-material expenditure are almost as confusing as it must get somewhere around subject category 33 in the PROSE Awards.

Student Monitor’s “Lifestyle and Media” report found that student spending on course materials went from an average of $691 in the 2014-2015 academic year to $422 for in 2019-2020 school year, a decline of 39 percent over a six-year period. The 2019-2020 figure represents a 14-percent decline as compared to the average student spend of $492 during the 2018-2019 academic year.

The newest Student Watch survey sees course-material spending dropping from $638 for the 2014-2015 academic year to $413 for the 2019-2020 academic year, a decline of 35 percent over six years. The latest figure represents a 0.5-percent decline as compared to the average student spend of $415 during the 2018-2019 academic year.

As the analyst Conley points out, the relative agreement between the two studies’ results is important, a mutual verification of the trends spotted by both.

So Many Course-Material Options

One of the most interesting elements being broken out in this research is that students today have a remarkably broad set of options in terms of course materials as opposed to what was available a decade ago. What once was a narrow, rigid offering now has been fragmented into an array of tools.

Eric Weil

Eric Weil, managing partner with Student Monitor, is quoted in today’s media messaging, putting it this way: “Students have at least 10 different options or combination of options when it comes to deciding what textbooks or course materials they are going to acquire.

“They can purchase a new printed textbook, a used printed textbook. They can rent a textbook instead of purchasing a printed textbook. They can acquire an e-textbook for either limited or unlimited use.

Image: National Association of College Stores Foundation

“They can take advantage of one of these new subscription programs providing unlimited access to print and digital for either a single term or the entire academic year for a flat subscription price. From a student’s perspective, nothing could be more convenient than a subscription model that provides you everything that you need at a discounted price.”

Weil also talks about “inclusive access,” which has obvious advantages of convenience and cost savings.

The approach, Weil says, “offers a lot of promise, a lot of benefits to all concerned. The students receive all of their digital materials. They’re billed for those materials either through whatever financial aid they may be receiving or through their student accounts and the access to those materials is actually provided before the first day of class.

“This is really convenient, really adds to the value of the course from an instructors’ perspective. It’s just an exciting new approach that’s more convenient for the student, saves money for the student, increases the value of their tuition dollar. It just makes perfect sense.”

Brittany Conley

Conley says, “If we’re talking about what’s prevalent among all course material options, rentals is something that we see more prevalent.

“This year, around 40 percent of students had rented at least one course material over the semester or academic term.”

And in terms of Student Watch’s survey work, print still seems to hold its attraction for many students, at least in terms of what they tell survey queries. In the 2019-2020 school year, 48 percent of students surveyed said they preferred some type of print book, while 21 percent of students said they preferred digital-only content.

During the year, 80 percent of students purchased course materials, and 44 percent rented course materials.

One of the things mentioned in none of the materials provided to the news medium is any sense for the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020 end of the year’s study. Perhaps mitigation restrictions arrived too late to factor in to the research, but it’s easy to see that digital course-material options should be growing in response to the health emergency, even as colleges and universities grapple for a way forward in the autumn.

AAP has produced a video that captures much of the new research results:


More from Publishing Perspectives on educational publishing is here, and more from us on the Association of American Publishers is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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