A New Chapter for Iowa's Students

Released by: Iowa PIRG Education Fund

College textbook prices have skyrocketed in recent years, threatening the affordability and accessibility of higher education in Iowa. The average full-time undergraduate student is estimated to have spent $1,168 last year on books and supplies at an average cost of $175 per new book. As prices continue to rise, the need for solutions is increasingly urgent.

Textbook sales at just state-owned bookstores in Iowa reached approximately $45.8 million last year and the Iowa Legislative Services Agency placed textbook sales in Iowa at slightly more than $162 million for the past academic year.  

For this report, we multiplied enrollment numbers from a sampling of colleges and universities in the state by the College Board’s estimated budget for what the average full-time undergraduate student spent on textbooks and supplies in the past academic year. According to these estimates, University of Iowa undergraduate students spent an estimated $25.7 million in the past academic year on course materials.

A study by the Government Accountability Office found that textbook prices have increased 82% over the last decade and continue to rise 6% per year, about three times faster than the rate of inflation. The frequent release of new editions gives students little choice but to buy new versions and stops students from selling back their textbooks after use.

Open textbooks, available for free online and also in print at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks, have tremendous potential as the solution to high textbook costs and can reduce costs by 80%. Applying this rate to the Iowa Legislative Services Agency estimate for total textbook sales in Iowa last year presents Iowa students with an estimated $129.6 million in savings by transitioning to open textbooks throughout the state. 

Other states have taken the lead in providing more open textbook options to students. Iowa could be a leading state in the textbook affordability movement, but much more needs to be done.


  • Professors at Iowa’s Colleges and Universities can lead the charge on reducing textbook costs. Faculty should seek, consider, and adopt open textbooks and other affordable alternatives whenever possible.
  • State policy makers and University decision makers should invest in the creation of more open textbooks.
  • Publishers should develop new models that can produce high quality books without imposing excessive costs on students.
  • Students should take action against high costs by spreading the word about open textbooks to their faculty, campuses, and community.

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