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Highlights from Student Watch Attitudes & Behaviors toward Course Materials 2016-17 Report

Student spending on textbooks and supplies

During the 2016-17 academic year, students spent an average of $579 on their required course materials, down $23 from the previous year. They reported spending $506 on technology and school supplies.



(*) Starting in 2015-16, total spending for the academic year was weighted by campus type to more accurately reflect the proportion of students enrolled at two- and four-year U.S. institutions.

Students shop smart and save

Even though they’re spending less on their course materials, students report acquiring the same number of units. They’re not buying less, they’re shopping smarter. Students are comparing prices and taking advantage of a number of cost-saving options available at their campus store, such as used books, rentals, and electronic materials. Eighty-two percent report purchasing from the campus store and 57% took advantage of their campus store's rental program.

New print is most purchased format

Today’s students can choose from a variety of formats when shopping for course materials.

In fall 2016, when purchasing course materials, 74% of students reported buying new print, 70% bought used print, and 23% bought digital.


Use of free materials increased

College students are spending less by accessing free course materials, often assigned by faculty. They’re borrowing, sharing, and downloading the materials needed for their classes. In spring 2017, 25% of students surveyed reported using a free method to obtain what they needed for class, up from 19% the previous year.


Use of digital materials increased

During the fall term, nearly a quarter (23%) of students who purchased at least one course material bought a digital version, an increase of 8% from fall 2015.


Renting of course materials increased

Forty-three percent of students rented at least one course material in fall 2016, compared to 40% in fall 2015. More than 60% of students surveyed said they believe it’s cheaper to rent what they need. And they’re renting from the campus store. More than half (57%) of students who rented at least one course material did so through their campus store’s rental program. Thirty-six percent rented from Amazon.

 Campus store remains top source for course materials



Complete copies of the report are available for purchase by contacting info@oncampusresearch.org.

Media Note: For more insights into student shopping behavior and trends, email publicrelations@nacs.org.


About the Study

Student Watch™ is conducted online twice a year, in the fall and spring terms. It is designed to proportionately match the most recent figures of U.S. higher education published in The Chronicle of Higher Education: 2015/2016 Almanac. Ninety institutions were selected to participate based on the following factors: public vs. private schools, two-year vs. four-year degree programs, enrollment size, and geographic location. Participating campuses included:

  • 90 institutions
  • 33 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces
  • 71 four-year institutions and 19 two-year institutions
  • 61 public institutions and 29 private institutions
  • 33 institutions with fewer than 5,000 students enrolled, 15 institutions with 5,000 to 9,999 students enrolled, 15 institutions with 10,000 to 20,000 students enrolled, 27 institutions with more than 20,000 students enrolled.

Campus stores distributed the survey to their students by email. The first survey fielded in October/November 2016.  A total of 24,641 valid responses were collected. The second survey wave fielded in February/March 2017 and yielded a total of 19,915 responses. The data from each survey were weighted by campus type to more accurately reflect the proportion of students enrolled at two- and four-year U.S. institutions. The margin of error for this study is <1.0 at the 95% confidence level.