Ease of access and lower costs are two major drivers for the increase in digital course materials among college students, according to a twice-yearly national survey.

The preference for digital course materials by college students is gradually increasing, although not as quickly as some predicted, according to the National Association of College Stores’ (NACS) survey of college students in the U.S. and Canada.

The study, Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials: 2015-2016 Report, notes that 40 percent of students still prefer a printed textbook format. However, 26 percent now prefer a print/digital bundle – a print textbook with a digital component such as online access and support – up from 24 percent a year ago. Convenience (56 percent) and lower cost (45 percent) remain the top reasons for purchasing digital.

Roughly 60 percent of surveyed students used at least one digital course component, such as an e-textbook or an online access code, during the fall 2015 semester. Seventy-five percent of surveyed students said they have used a digital learning component at least once in their college careers, while 17 percent said they have not.

(Next page: Student spending on course materials has steadily declined)

Among students who prefer print textbooks, top reasons for their preference include being easier to study from, easier to flip through and easier to read than a screen. On the other hand, those preferring digital textbooks pointed out that they are easier to take places, lower in cost and environmentally friendly.

“The main reason students acquired an access code for the fall 2015 term was because their instructor required it,” noted Elizabeth Riddle, director of OnCampus Research, the research arm of NACS. “In addition to faculty, time will be an influential factor in the acceptance of digital. Students will grow more receptive to e-textbooks and access codes through use, and preferences will shift toward digital due to widespread exposure in many K-12 environments.”

Student spending on the decline since 2007-08

The NACS report indicates that while average annual spending by students on required course materials increased slightly for the 2015-16 academic year due to weighting*, there has been a downward trend for nearly a decade, influenced by options such as rentals, digital, used, open educational resources and print-on-demand. Yet the number of course materials acquired over the past three years have remained steady at nine per year.

Students spent an average of $602* on their purchased and rented required course materials last school year, compared with $563 in 2014-15 and $701 in 2007-08. (*Editor’s note: Total spending for the 2015-2016 academic year was weighted by campus type to more accurately reflect the proportion of students enrolled at two- and four-year U.S. institutions. The unweighted total spending average is $559.)

Another growing option among students is the ability to download their materials for free from the internet. Approximately 11 percent downloaded at least one material during the spring 2016 term, up from 5 percent the previous year. The frequency of students borrowing materials, whether from the campus library or other students, has remained between 10 and 13 percent over the past few years.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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