Mass communication sophomore Cody Arceneaux paid $400 for a textbook and lab notes for a chemistry class last spring. With his current hourly rate working as a Starbucks manager, it would take him about 40 hours to make enough money to buy materials for that class alone. He also paid an upward of $1,000 last semester for textbooks, and around $500 for the current semester.
"Textbook costs are the reason I changed my major," Arceneaux said. "I couldn't financially keep paying this much money for textbooks for my STEM classes, so I became a communications major."
Since the late 1970s, textbook costs have risen over 1,000%. The industry is currently worth between $7 to $10 billion and 80% of the market is dominated by five main publishing houses. This set up puts students at an inherent disadvantage.
College students are known to the textbook industry as "captive consumers" – customers who have no other option but to buy the product. Because of this, the industry can skyrocket prices and the consumer will still have to pay.
On average, students enrolled at a four-year university spend approximately $1,200 per year on required class materials, including textbooks and online access codes. This does not take into account the newly developed cost of online proctored exams, which can range from $7-$25 per exam.
Arceneaux is a first generation college student, and the struggles of college finances had far-reaching implications for his personal life.
"After that semester I developed anxiety and depression because I was so stressed out financially," Arceneaux said. "I actually failed one of my classes due to this. My therapist and I had to appeal to TOPS to get my scholarships back."
Marketing sophomore Brock Efferson has paid equally high prices for textbooks in his classes. Not including proctored exams for four of his classes, he spent around $500 for online access codes this semester.
Efferson said many of the required resources seem to be unnecessary. Students are paying hundreds of dollars for homework programs where all the answers can be found on Quizlet and the system can be easily subverted, he said.
"I feel like I'm paying for nothing,” Efferson said. “It's stupid. That's the only way to put it. If you're going to put homework for everyone to cheat on, why are you making them pay for it. Just put it on Moodle.”
Some students feel that after paying $12,000 for in-state tuition or $28,000 for out-of-state tuition, textbooks should be covered in that overhead expense.
"I think it needs to be put into tuition, 100%," Efferson said. "We're paying thousands of dollars to go to this school."
Kaya Lewis, African and African American studies sophomore, said that there should be a limit on how much professors can require a student to spend on textbooks per class.
"Most college kids are already struggling financially," Lewis said. "We already have to pay tuition and housing, having to pay $200 for an access code can be the difference between someone dropping a class or not."
Some publishing experts say the future of the textbook industry is to sell "institutionalized licensing" for textbooks rather than individual copies, so that universities can purchase the right to duplicate the books and distribute them to students at their own price.
Arceneaux said that other schools, like Arizona State University, use Open Education Recourses that are free to students, cutting back on textbook costs significantly. He said he would like to see LSU follow suit and use more of those resources as well.