The rising cost of college: beyond tuition

Jami Edwards Uncategorized 0 Comments

College tuition is usually the first cost that comes to mind when discussing college affordability, but it is far from the only expense posing as a barrier to college success. Textbook prices are crippling the pockets of students and threatening their academic success.

Amina Glass is a student at Georgia State University and a recipient of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s Brumley-GRAD scholarship. In 2018-2019, her total cost of books were $543.63 (without taxes). Two classes required books over $100.

“This scholarship helps me pay for my textbooks,” Glass states. “Which is a great relief considering how costly they can be.”

The average cost of textbooks outpace the rate of inflation by three times (1). One of the leading factors in cost escalation is the use of digital textbooks, which include access codes that can only be used once and expire at the end of the semester. The rise of digital textbook usage eliminates the option for students to buy used materials or share textbooks with other classmates. Glass is no exception. Three of her books included an access code, which totaled more than half of her complete cost of books.

Increased textbook prices cause students struggling with college expenses to make decisions that undermine attaining their post-secondary education. In 2017, 85 percent of U.S. students reported not having all of their course materials at the beginning of the semester (2). Glass went one month during her first semester without the required books for her classes. “I was having issues with my financial aid and had to wait for it to be processed before I had the money to purchase books,” she explained.

Some students chose not to buy the required books or supplies at all. Of these students, more than 90 percent stated cost of the materials as the reason for delaying or forgoing the purchase, and as a result, 50 percent reported a damaging effect on their grades. In addition, students reported that because of textbook prices, they opt to take fewer courses, do not register for a course, drop a course or withdraw from a course (2). The statistics conclude students are taking shortcuts to offset college expenses, but at the detriment of their education long-term. They are knowingly accepting the risk of a lower grade, potentially delaying graduation by skipping courses and limiting their overall learning experience to circumvent textbook costs.

Looking toward possible solutions, there has been some effort in controlling the price of textbooks through the Affordable College Textbook Act introduced to Congress in April of this year. The bill seeks to expand the use of open textbooks at U.S. colleges and universities for everyone to use and share freely as an affordable alternative to traditional textbooks. In the meantime, scholarships such as the Brumley-GRAD Fund and generous financial aid packages provided through universities and federal aid are essential to the success of Glass and other students completing their post-secondary education.

Interested in scholarship opportunities offered through the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta? Learn more here. If you are interested in learning more about how to financially assist students, please contact a philanthropic officer.


(1)  Grasgreen, Allie. (2014, January 28). Options Don’t Stem Textbook Woes.

(2)  VitalSource. (2017). The Rising Cost of College: Solving the Student Textbook Problem.