There is a pervasive villain that strikes at the very heart of higher education. Its wound is painless yet powerful; victims don’t even know their academic life has been crippled until it’s too late.

There has been much gnashing of teeth and angst about the rapid rise in cost of textbooks and course materials. Some statistics show an 80 percent increase in prices over a 10-year period, with students spending an average of $1,200 each year on hardcopy textbooks and supplies.

To help curb costs, a market of used and rental textbooks has emerged that offers titles at more reasonable prices. However, the used market has actually made the problem worse, forcing prices of new books to rise even higher because publishers can now only generate revenue on the initial sale of the first edition of each title.

Enter our pernicious villain, also known as “The Maze”—a confusing and complex course-materials marketplace that ambushes students at the beginning of their freshman year.

Students are unknowingly ensnared in The Maze when they first stop into the college bookstore to collect required books prior to the start of classes. They may be shell-shocked by the prices, but feel they have no alternative but to purchase the materials.

By the second semester, the villain’s trap begins to work. Instead of going to the college store before classes start, students explore the larger textbook market. The options are seemingly endless: campus college store, local bookstore, Amazon, Chegg, publisher direct, innumerable online retailers, and more.

Many students opt to wait until after classes begin before deciding which materials to purchase. They miss assignments or force faculty to delay teaching more substantive subject matter. Now both professors and students are stymied by The Maze.

About the Author:

Dr. Michael Hale is the vice president of education for VitalSource, a leading provider of digital content on college campuses. He has more than 25 years in the field of education, having been a high school teacher, a charter school founder and director, and a college professor. At VitalSource, Hale focuses on helping institutions improve outcomes and affordably create and deliver learning solutions.