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If College Were Free Would Textbooks Cost More?

If College Were Free Would Textbooks Cost More?

Free Tuition Will Cause Textbook Costs to Rise

In the United States, there has been an initiative to begin offering free tuition to certain colleges, but many people can’t help but wonder how that money is going to be made up. After all, the money has to come from somewhere, right? There is a possibility that the money will come from other college-related sources. Textbooks may be one of those sources. Before we dive into how the cost of textbooks may go up, let’s talk about how expensive it is to pay for college and why free tuition is a need in the United States.

How Expensive is Higher Education in America?

Higher education in America is expensive leading people to ask if the cost of higher education is worth it (but that’s something to be discussed in another blog). Some people are lucky enough to have rich or well-off parents who can pay their tuition. Others are poor enough to qualify for financial aid. Those in the middle, unfortunately, are the ones who may have to work a full-time job or two while trying to earn a full-time education.

According to College Board, during the 2017/2018 school year, the average college tuition for an in-state public school was almost $10,000 and for out-of-state it was over $25,000. For a private, non-profit school it was over $34,000[1]. These numbers don’t include textbooks, room and board, and other living expenses.

Comparatively, college students who work barely make enough to pay tuition and living expenses. They often work entry level jobs such as servers or retail salesperson. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2017 retail salespersons made an average of $27,000 per year. So, what does this mean in numbers?

Annual Wages vs. Cost of Higher Education for College Students[1,2]

In-State Public



Public Tuition




– $27,000 Wages


– $10,000 Avg. Tuition


– $10,018 Avg. Room/Board



$6,982 to live off for a year


– $27,000 Wages


– $25,000 Avg. Tuition


– $10,018 Avg. Room/Board



$8,018 in annual debt


– $27,000 Wages


– $34,000 Avg. Tuition


– $12,210 Avg. Room/Board



$19,210 in annual debt

According to the numbers in the above paragraph, this means that a college student can’t afford to go to an out of state school or a private school unless they work two full-time jobs. College students are essentially broke, even after working a full-time job and this is the reason that the free tuition initiative has come around.

Free Tuition is a Good in Theory, But Will the Cost of Textbooks Rise?

In theory, the cost of textbooks should not rise due to the free tuition programs that are being put in place, but that money that students are not paying anymore will have to come from somewhere. There has never been a program in the United States that was completely free-costs of these types of programs are usually paid in the form of extra taxes by taxpaying citizens or in the form of inflation. Colleges and universities still need money-they have to pay professors’ salaries, insurance, maintenances, etc. so one way they will probably make up that money is through textbooks.

A lot of textbooks that are used in college courses are created by the school that it is being used at. These schools receive royalties on the books whenever they are sold[3]. The kickbacks can even trickle down to specific departments within the school. Without tuition coming in, schools may begin to make more “custom” textbooks and can increase the costs associated with these books to cover money that is lost in tuition. Another thing to consider is that educators’ salaries may be cut or they may not receive as many bonuses as they usually do when students aren’t paying tuition. Many educators write the books from which they teach, so they may increase the costs of the books in order to make up for the salary and bonuses that they are missing.

Free college tuition may very well increase the cost of textbooks, as well as other expenses associated with college. While free tuition would prevent many students from going in debt while in college, students and parents will have to be prepared to suffer the financial consequences of free tuition in other ways. Overall, the rising cost of textbooks may be a casualty that is worth it in the end.






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