The Atlantic

Why Students Are Still Spending So Much for College Textbooks

New technologies are revolutionizing education—but they’re also keeping prices high.
Source: Alex Grimm / Reuters

After settling into his dorm this past fall, John McGrath, a freshman at Rutgers University, took the campus shuttle to the school bookstore. He waited in line for 40 minutes clutching a list of four classes—including Microeconomics, Introduction to Calculus, and Expository Writing—and walked out later with an armful of books, some bundled with digital codes that he would use to access assignments on the publishers’ websites. He also exited the store with a bill for about $450.

McGrath, an accounting major, pays close attention to his expenditures. He had researched all the textbook options—new, used, digital, loose-leaf, rental—and knew about the various online venues that compete with campus bookstores for sales. His plan was to buy materials that he could later resell. But he was surprised to learn not only that he had to purchase digital codes for half of his classes, but also that those codes are often sold exclusively at the campus bookstore—and for a steep price.

Along with the traditional textbooks, many college classes now require students to purchase access codes—which $100 on average—to online platforms created by publishers such as and . Homework and quizzes on the platforms

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