It’s not news to anyone that college has become increasingly expensive over the years. According to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, tuition has gone up 559 percent in the last three decades and textbook prices have also risen by a staggering 812 percentage in the same period of time. What could possibly lead to such an incredible increase? Inflation? Publishing and shipping costs? Is the KC bookstore really a front for the Mafia? Ok that last one was a joke; the KC Bookstore has no bearing on the cost of our textbooks and are just as subject to the circumstances behind prices as the students. While publishing and shipping costs have also increased over time for all books, the cost for textbooks exceeds the cost for recreational books by a wide margin. The bottom line is that we may now be in the middle of an unsustainable “higher education bubble.”
In a financial bubble, assets like houses are sometimes purchased to be resold at a higher price, and this can produce rapidly escalating prices as people speculate on future pricing; eventually causing a spiral that can provoke abrupt selling of the assets and resulting in another abrupt collapse in price. Because the asset acquired through college attendance is a higher education and cannot be sold, there is no similar factor that would cause a collapse in the value of existing degrees.
However, much like the housing bubble in the last decade, the higher education bubble is a product of cheap credit coupled with popular expectations of increasing returns on investment. In the case of higher education, this means tuition prices increasing even as the supply of college graduates in many fields of study exceeds the demand for their skills. We also have to consider tuition and textbook price increases have exceeded the cost of living increases and family income growth during the same period.
There is no federal or state standard that colleges have to abide by in terms of selecting books for specific classes. It is actually left to the discretion of each instructor to decide the books that students will need for their classes.
Many colleges, KC included, have found ways to help combat these factors with the campus allowing the students a choice in buying a textbook online as opposed to the bookstore or buying a used book at a decreased cost. Congress actually changed the law so that colleges must show the price difference of the textbooks their classes require between online and on campus stores as a way for students to have easier access to different options.
The KC Bookstore also allows for the student to return the book for a “buyback,” so long as the book is in an acceptable condition upon return.
These may be temporary fixes to the bigger issue; however, the prices for both tuition and textbooks show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
While many share and understand higher education is important, the costs of achieving that goal may soon exceed the means of the average person.