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Re-evaluating Textbook Prices: Publishing professionals explain why textbook prices are declining and what that means for students.

As college students, we have a responsibility twice a year to buy textbooks for all of our classes each semester. We all know too well the feeling of dread we have when we go to check out at the bookstore and see the final cost of our textbooks for the semester.

Believe it or not, textbook prices have gone down significantly in the past decade, and they keep getting lower thanks to new programs created by publishing companies such as McGraw Hill. In 2010, college students were averaging almost $700 on course materials yearly, while in 2020, the average college students spent about $413. This is about a 39% decline.

So why are textbooks so expensive in the first place? And how is it possible that we are spending less now than ever before on these textbooks?

“What people don’t understand is textbooks receive and require a lot more development to be published than a typical book.” Kent Peterson, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for the higher education division of McGraw Hill, explained. Textbooks require a tremendous amount of peer review from multiple instructors in the subject who provide feedback on the textbook. Textbooks also have a rather extensive visual program, such as visuals and photographs as well, all of which require copyright permissions from various sources, until finally all of the information can come together to form one textbook. Most of the textbook costs come from those copyright permissions and peer review compensation costs to make sure the textbook is factually correct.

McGraw Hill is a publication company that makes full service course material for K-12 and colleges. Most textbooks that Eastern uses are published by McGraw Hill. One important aspect about McGraw Hill is the company’s goal of making textbooks more accessible and available to more students by lowering costs and creating programs that benefit students, rather than making more money.

McGraw Hill is one of many companies trying to keep up with the ever changing market, and has come up with new ways to keep costs down for college students while still maintaining a profit. One of these ways is through a new system called inclusive access. Inclusive access is a model in which the publication company makes a deal with the university directly, and allows the institution to provide course materials to students as part of their overall tuition fees, rather than as a separate cost. This model allows the publication company to still make money and continue making textbooks available, while also making the material available to more students.

Peterson described many reasons as to why students may be spending less than ever on textbook materials, one of which being the newly introduced inclusive access model, although McGraw Hill only recently began using this model about 5 years ago, they already have inclusive access deals with over 1,300 colleges and universities across the country. Another reason Peterson gave for the decline in spending is the wider variety of purchasing options students have when purchasing textbooks. Rather than only having the option to buy a new textbook, students now have the ability to rent textbooks, buy used directly from the bookstore, or even purchase or rent ebooks.

These lower pricing options are “very good for everyone, lower prices mean more access to course materials” Peterson said, “we want to make sure all students have access to course materials… course materials have a direct impact on student learning and performance”

One thing Peterson emphasized is the benefits of online course materials, specifically a program called courseware. McGraw Hill has two separate courseware programs; Aleks, which focuses on Chemistry and Math, and McGraw Hill Connect, which covers all other subjects. Courseware has revolutionized the way textbooks are able to be used. It provides exercises for students to follow, and has been developed to identify where students are struggling and works to help specifically in the problem areas. This allows students to practice and learn on their own when a professor is not available.

With the one year mark of schools shutting down recently passing, Peterson reflected on how the pandemic affected McGraw Hill and what the company did to help students. “We made the decision to offer free access to our course materials and ebooks to instructors to finish the term. We provided over 4000 free courses to over 90,000 students who were able to finish their spring term” Peterson said. “This marked a massive transition from in person education to delivery of courses in a virtual format.”

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