Course Materials for Free

More College Students Are Downloading Course Materials for Free—Or Skipping Them Entirely

Rebecca Koenig     Jul 25, 2019

a big increase since the fall of 2015, when only 3 percent of students reported downloading free course materials.

That figure includes texts procured legally, like open educational resources (known as OER), and illegally, such as pirated files shared through torrent websites. The most recent data NACS has on the latter behavior is from the fall of 2017, when 4 percent of respondents reported obtaining materials through illegal downloads.

The survey includes responses from nearly 20,000 college students at 41 four-year and two-year institutions across 20 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

Pearson announced it will adopt a “digital first” strategy for updating college course materials. And earlier this year, two of the world’s largest publishers of textbooks, Cengage and McGraw-Hill, announced plans to merge, and plan to offer a subscription-based service that combines their digital libraries in one package. (“oligopoly” – see slide 12 of this presentation to the Bulgarian Library and Information Association,

several possible factors influencing falling spending
A third may be the growth of so-called inclusive-access programs. In these deals, colleges order published materials in bulk, then charge students a per-course fee that grants them access to all of the required texts and tools. This approach typically offers students lower prices than they can get at retail stores on new books, but some students complain that it stops them from finding lower prices on their own.

The high price of books was the top reason given by students who decided not to obtain the required texts, but 38 percent said they didn’t want them or didn’t think they’d need them.

“Students want to wait to see if the professor is really going to use it and if it’s really going to be necessary for class,” says Lisa Malat, COO of Barnes & Noble College.

Pearson and textbooks