Up until about five years ago, college students accepted the inevitable: Along with tuition and room and board, they were going to have to come up with a few hundred dollars per semester for textbooks. It’s been a rising concern for parents and students, who are already burdened with some pretty exorbitant costs for college.

The cost of textbooks has increased faster than tuition, health care and housing prices, according to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). In fact, prices for college textbooks are up 812 percent in the past 30 years, whereas college tuition and fees have risen 559 percent in the same amount of time.

The National Association of Colleges Stores reports that the average college students pays around $650 a year on books. Some students can pay much more, if they need to buy brand-new, large books, which can run anywhere from $150 to $300 each.

Just like the housing market, this “textbook bubble” is becoming unsustainable. The costs are just too high, especially when compared with the low-priced and free alternatives starting to emerge.

Buy, Borrow, Rent

Students have been dogging the purchase of new books for years. Instead, they opt to buy used copies where available, or borrow or buy another student’s book who took the class the prior semester. Some students split the cost between a group of classmates and buy only one book, and then copy what they need.

Some students prefer to cut the buy-a-book/sell-it-back routine and rent textbooks. Campus bookstores and sites such as Amazon.com and campusbooks.com help students rent used books, which they can return for a lower total cost than buying the book outright. In fact, according to Student Monitor, about 24 percent of students rented their texts in the spring of 2011, which was three times as many students who bought a digital textbook. In that same year, Google reported a 40 percent increase in searches for “cheap textbook rentals” and a 20 percent increase in searches for “textbook rentals,” insidehighered.com reported.

Why Haven’t Textbooks Gone All-Digital?

One alternative to the costly college textbook is the digital textbook. According to a Book Industry Study Group survey conducted last year, 88 percent of professors surveyed still prefer and assign printed textbooks, and around 32 percent make digital textbooks available as well. The data also says that more than half of students surveyed are more likely to bring a laptop to class than a printed book; however, these statistics are not turning into sales for digital textbooks.

Most students still prefer to use digital or paperless resources, but not necessarily purchase them. The idea is that digital content should be providing an additional educational element along with the text; however, most of the current digital texts are just PDF versions of the printed text. Because of this, many students simply pass along the PDFs to one another and use online backup to store the pages in the cloud for others’ use.

Interestingly, Google reported that searches for “kindle textbooks,” “nook textbooks,” and “ipad textbooks” are up, so even if students aren’t buying yet, they are looking into the idea of digital textbooks. According to Akademos, there has been a 300 percent increase in ebook purchases over the past three years, but ebooks still comprise only 5 percent of overall textbook sales.

Students Seek Alternatives

The main obstacle to offering inexpensive digital textbooks to students is that many publishers do not allow for the resale of an ebook. Once a license has been sold, it cannot be resold, so secondary sales of ebooks is nonexistent.

Book rentals, used book sales and ebook are still out-performing new book sales, and it looks like that trend will continue.

The trend is clear: New textbooks are too expensive, and students are seeking alternatives. College students are tech-savvy and thrifty. They know if they look hard enough or get creative enough, they can get what they need without having to pay a big price tag. If textbook publishers do not figure out a way to decrease pricing, they will end up going the way of encyclopedias when Wikipedia dropped on the scene.

The end of the semester is near and you’ve got a ton on your mind — finals, packing up your room, summer plans, vacations, jobs and internships, the real world . . . We get it, you don’t have time or interest in reading any more than is already on your syllabi, so let’s roll with some straight talk.

There’s no way that any students will keep all of their books and by now, almost all students know that selling those unwanted books back to the campus bookstore will not garner much cash and may even make them feel hostile (the old “I paid $250 for this four months ago. You’re offering me $4 back for it now? Even in perfect condition?”) It sucks, but with a little planning and prep on your part, it doesn’t have to suck so much and you can actually come out in decent shape and headed into summer with 1) fewer books to pack and move, 2) some dough in your pocket. Here’s how:

Time your buybacks. Do not wait until after finals or graduation. Visit the CampusBooks.com selling tool to get your price quotes a few days before you’ll be done with the books. Read the buyer’s terms and see how many days you have to ship your book. Time it so that your quote remains valid for those few days when you still need your book and then make sure that you ship within deadline. Striking this balance will help you secure a higher price before buyers reach their quotas while you keep the book as long (but not longer) than you need it. And the deadline will give you some incentive to follow up.

Speaking of, follow up! Yes, you do have to do a little work beyond just locking in your buyback quote. You actually have to ship the book back. The good news is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to do so. Most buyers provide shipping reimbursement or even a prepaid envelope or label. Most also work with big names like UPS and USPS and FedEx so that you can just drop the package in a dropbox and be done. Remember that a buyback quote is a contract and you only get your cash when you follow the instructions within the time allotted.

Be flexible with payment. Some buyers offer PayPal, others mail checks, still others offer credit for future purchases. Read the terms before you agree and make sure that you provide all the information needed so that they can receive your book, check it in, and get you paid. Make it as easy as possible for them to give you money by following directions and also not shipping them garbage. Nobody wants your beer-stained textbook and no buyer will buy it in that sort of poor condition. If the buyer requires that you include supplements, INCLUDE SUPPLEMENTS. Don’t send back a dodgy book and then wonder why you didn’t get full (or any) value. Don’t select PayPal and not include your email and then wonder where your money is.

Make it easy on yourself and put your smartphone to work. If you have an iPhone or a Droid, grab the CampusBooks.com Mobile App for Smartphones and save yourself the hand-keying. Use our app and your phone’s camera    to scan the barcodes on your textbooks and find the highest buyback    values going. It’s insanely easy and totally on the go.

Take a gander at “Selling Back Books: A Few Simple Rules.” These rules and tips and reality checks will help you get through finals and buyback without losing your mind. Follow these guidelines and you will be well served to maximize your cash back and keep your sanity during a very-crazy end-of-term time. Good luck!

The tradition of spring break is celebrated every year by adventure-seeking young Americans across the nation. Are you familiar with the story of how it all (may have) started? Rumor is, during the winter of 1717, a young Benjamin Franklin was attending formal school in Boston. While he enjoyed his studies, Ben’s curiosity in exploring the world could not be contained to leather-bound books and old professors with white beards. The brutal Boston winters made him yearn for warmer weather, and so he set his sights on the fun and sun of the south. And so, the nation’s first spring break was born (ahem, maybe). Since that time, college students have followed in Franklin’s footsteps by flocking to warm destinations for a little fun and sunshine after the long winter months. Franklin was nothing if not clever and always prepared, so follow in his footsteps and get organized for spring break.

Pack This, Not That: Of course you’ll be spending most of your time in the sun, so beach gear is a must. Sunglasses, sandals, board shorts, bikinis, coverups, beach bags, and floppy hats must make their way into your suitcase. Don’t forget to grab a tube of sunscreen to keep yourself from looking like a lobster after your first encounter with sunlight in months. When the sun goes down, you’ll want to look your best for whatever the night will bring. Dress to impress by bringing along a few items from the fancy side of your closet.

Really? Five Pairs of Shoes? For many, the art of packing is as elusive as constructing those little origami paper cranes. Fear not. First, collect your supplies and prioritize. Start by categorizing the items into three groups: yes, maybe, and no. The essential things should go in the “yes” pile. And then, you know the stuff that looks pretty but will only sit in the bottom of your bag because it doesn’t fit right? Yeah, all that needs to go in the “no” pile. What’s left over is the “maybe” pile. The goal should be to keep everything limited to one suitcase for ease and avoiding baggage fees. If you can manage that, your spring break travel will be lighter and your forearms will be happier. Remember to leave room for any souvenirs and gifts you want to bring back with you.

Mobile: Protecting your mobile devices from surf and sand is imperative. The cellphone accessory market is huge and there is no shortage of sweet T-Mobile accessories that will protect your phone from the elements. Don’t forget a reliable charger for your road trip, either. While you’re at it, put your smartphone to use and download a guide like the Drink Tracker app to easily and accurately calculate your blood-alcohol content (and remember to alternate your alcoholic drinks with water to keep hydrated and avoid a nasty hangover). Finally, make sure you’re prepared to end the night strong. Download the Taxi Magic app to your smartphone to book your ride home quickly and easily.

And Go! So now that you’ve honored the origins of spring break and prepared yourself from head to toe, you’re ready to get outta Dodge. You’ve waited all winter and you deserve this; when you get back to reality, it’ll be time to hit the books again, so go have fun and go make old Ben Franklin proud.

The digital revolution has forever changed how students obtain a higher education. According to U.S. News & World Report, more students are enrolled in at least one online college class than ever before. Then, consider these numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics: In fall 2012, the largest U.S. university campus by enrollment was Arizona State University, which clocked in at 60,169 students. Now compare this to the 380,232 students enrolled in the primarily online University of Phoenix, or the 70,011 enrolled in the all-online Kaplan University.

What’s it all mean for traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities? Is online learning poised to become the new norm?

Online Learning Goes Mainstream

It’s doubtful the virtual classroom will replace the physical classroom anytime soon, but the evidence does suggest that distance education will become the predominant form of education in the future. What’s abundantly clear is that traditional universities are offering more online classes in an effort to compete with distance education universities.

For example, in fall 2012 the educational powerhouses MIT and Harvard launched edX, a venture that offers free online courses to anybody with an Internet connection, with the goal of creating an online community attended by millions. Though these particular types of classes, known as massive open online courses (MOOCs), offer no credit toward a degree, they are surging in popularity, and the two institutions expect other respected universities to join in this venture. Similarly, Stanford has Udacity, and Princeton, Yale and Carnegie Mellon are following suit with their own MOOCs. Add to this the number of the nation’s top programs that can be found online, and it’s evident higher education is experiencing a revolution.

The Pros of Getting an Online Education

So what does online education have going for it?

Improves accessibility. Online education makes it easier for everyone to get the same quality of education, whereas attending traditional college isn’t always possible to those from certain geographical areas or walks of life. Disabled students may find access to a higher education is easier than attending college on a traditional campus, and people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to college due to work and family obligations can now study on their own time from the comfort of home.

It’s usually cheaper. There are many factors that come into play as far as which is more expensive, online school or brick-and-mortar colleges, including whether a student chooses to go to a public or private institution, in-state or out-of-state, and the amount of financial aid granted. One thing is for certain – the costs associated with attending a traditional college (room and board, commuting costs) are greater than attending college online.

The Cons of Online Learning

There are drawbacks to online learning, as well.

Lack of widespread respect. When it comes to hiring graduates who earned their degrees online, it’s really a crapshoot as to whether the hiring manager will view that degree as valid. Skepticism still exists, especially when it comes to the matter of accreditation.

Lack of “real world” experience. Students are in a more isolated learning environment online. Many cite the inability to exchange ideas with peers and educators face to face as a detraction.

Will State Schools Join the Frenzy?

The prized concept of a free marketplace is playing to the advantage of distance education students. While online schools have high enrollment numbers, state schools are in the position of being able to offer the flexibility distance education provides while still offering degrees held in high esteem by businesses and companies across America. Most states prize education and funnel taxpayer money to their state schools in an effort to reduce the financial burden on students. In cases where a student is pursuing a degree based on a cost perspective, state schools can often be much more affordable.

Online universities are certainly expected to gain more momentum, as people are increasingly interested in going to college exclusively online. How dramatically this will affect higher education as it exists today remains to be seen.

For more than 30 years, prospective college students and parents alike have looked to the U.S. News & World Report college and university rankings to gauge the top institutions of higher learning. Now the publisher has gone beyond ranking prominent brick-and-mortar programs with its 2013 listings of best online education programs.

Online education is growing in popularity and numbers. Across the board, college administrators and online education companies are reporting increased enrollment numbers for online courses – in fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported a nearly 25 percent increase in online enrollment over the past four years. For many students, online education provides a less costly alternative to getting that valued degree the traditional way.

The evolution of Web-based learning has provided prospective students with many resources to evaluate whether online education is right for them. Highlights from the rankings can be found at the end of this article; additional education resources from Collegeonline.org can be utilized to determine if a Web-based education is the right fit for you. In addition to understanding the opportunities for learning through online education, students will also discover the opportunities for their careers and their futures.

Why Study Online?

After choosing an area of study, which is widely regarded as the most major decision facing students, degree-seekers should understand what will be required of them in online learning. There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration; an online education offers more specialized programs, flexible schedules and lower tuition rates, but chief among its drawbacks is the isolated nature of studying and learning and the physical distance from faculty and peers. These are aspects that some consider the most crucial element of the traditional, liberal arts-style of education found on American campuses.

Take Into Consideration…

The quality of the program. Despite popular belief, many online programs have the same caliber of teaching as their on-campus counterparts. In essence, professors are doing two jobs: teaching in-person classes and online sessions. Whether or not that instruction comes across as effectively over the Internet as it does in person depends largely on the program, the technology and the student.

Access to teachers. Obviously, there is a physical distance between students and professors with online learning, but many programs offer videoconferencing opportunities with professors and regular email contact. Online education boosters tend to downplay the concern for physical closeness as an relic of a bygone era.

The student’s lifestyle needs. Just like taking a campus tour at a traditional college or university, online learners should look into the programs they are considering to determine the most appropriate fit to their needs and life circumstances. For instance, a working parent who goes back to school for career advancement might put a high priority on having a flexible schedule, whereas a recent high school graduate working two jobs to make ends meet may put a higher priority on low tuition rates. Invest time looking into a number of different offerings to find the program that best meets your needs.

The technological and material requirements. Just as most traditional college courses have required readings and textbooks, online programs usually require students have a reliable computer with two-way videoconference capability, Web access and good writing and organizational software. Students should inquire about specific technological requirements to ensure they aren’t left scrambling to connect on their first day of classes.

What’s Next?

Demand for a quality education has enabled the evolution of online learning. States like California are moving ahead with pilot online education programs that may set new precedents for learning on a budget. In addition, there are many Web-based programs offering accreditation.

Here are the top five online undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as ranked by U.S New & World Report:

Best Online Bachelor’s Programs

  1. Pace University (New York)
  2. Daytona State College (Florida)
  3. St. John’s University (New York)
  4. Westfield State University (Massachusetts)
  5. Graceland University (Iowa)
  6. Lawrence Technological University (Michigan)
  7. Colorado State University/Global Campus
  8. Brandman University (California)
  9. Bellevue University (Nebraska)
  10. Regent University (Virginia)

Best Online Graduate Programs


  • Washington State University
  • Arizona State University (Carey)
  • Indiana University/Bloomington (Kelley)
  • University of Florida (Hough)
  • California State University/Fullerton (Mihaylo)


  • St. John’s University (New York)
  • Auburn University (Alabama)
  • South Dakota State University
  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of South Carolina


  • University of Southern California (Viterbi)
  • Pennsylvania State University/World Campus
  • Columbia University (Fu Foundation) (New York)
  • Purdue University/West Lafayette (Indiana)
  • University of Michigan/Ann Arbor

Info Tech

  • University of Southern California
  • Sam Houston State University (Texas)
  • Virginia Tech
  • University of Bridgeport (Connecticut)
  • Pennsylvania State University/World Campus


  • Ferris State University (Michigan)
  • Lamar University (Texas)
  • University of Michigan/Flint
  • Clarkson College (Nebraska)
  • Graceland University (Missouri)

The rankings are based on several factors, including graduation rates, indebtedness of new graduates, support services offered to students, faculty credentials and student engagement.

Students should do their research before committing to anything; it’s important to sift through the common facts and misconceptions to determine if an online college education is the right fit for you.