Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2014

Capstone Advisor

William Coplin, Director, Public Affairs Program

Honors Reader

Carol Dwyer, Community Benchmarks Program Director

Capstone Major

Political Science

Capstone College

Citizenship and Public Affairs

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Public Policy


American undergraduates spend approximately $600 per semester on required course materials, most of which are traditional textbooks. This study examines the high textbook costs placed on students and the factors contributing to cost increases. Textbook prices have increased more than twice the rate of inflation, approximately 6 percent per year since 1986. The textbook market is unlike many other economic markets within the United States, as instructors set the demand and students make the purchases.

A review of over 128 articles on textbook costs and alternatives provide information for this study. In particular, 16 studies evaluating textbook costs and alternatives provide background information for this report. In addition, the personal experiences of the author and Syracuse University students provide a student perspective of traditional textbook use. For anecdotal evidence, unstructured interviews were conducted with Syracuse University professors.

While students do not choose which textbooks they must purchase, they have several options that can reduce the cost. Course instructors have the most influence over textbook demand and thus are the key player in reducing student textbook costs. There are many alternative textbook options instructors can adopt to replace traditional textbooks and reduce student costs. This report provides instructors a resource to identify textbook alternatives best suited for their instructional style. Both print-based and electronic-based materials are considered as textbook alternatives within this study.

Syracuse University students feel that their textbook costs are unnecessarily high. Faculty can reduce student textbook costs by eliminating traditional textbooks. The cost-savings approaches of adopting open textbooks and making course materials accessible online provide students the most relief while maintaining a quality reference material. Syracuse University instructors should consider adopting these alternative approaches to reduce student costs.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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