Which Prices Are Growing Faster than Textbooks? Cigarettes and Gasoline

Compared to basic necessities, textbook costs have skyrocketed.

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Today, our education reporter Allie Bidwell wrote about the eternally skyrocketing costs of college textbooks. The report shows that the average college student spends up to $1,200 per year on textbooks, and that costs have grown by 82 percent in just a decade.

[READ: How to Find Cheap College Textbooks]

Everyone knows calculus textbooks are exorbitantly priced. The question is: compared to what? One answer is that textbook costs have gone up compared to everything. When compared to the broader consumer price index for all items economy-wide, textbook prices have grown by three times as much. The consumer price index for all items grew by nearly 27 percent from 2003 to 2013. Meanwhile, the CPI for textbooks shot up by nearly 82 percent.

(Danielle Kurtzleben for USNWR; Source: Department of Labor)

Compared to basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothes, textbook costs have risen dramatically. And even compared to the cost of medical services, which notably has grown quickly in recent years, textbook prices have grown far more quickly. Below is a chart exploring how textbook costs compare to an assortment of other goods.

(Danielle Kurtzleben for USNWR; Source: Department of Labor)

Interestingly, tuition and textbooks both have experienced roughly the same pace of price growth over the last decade. And though students are spending extra on their textbooks, they are at least saving money on computers, the prices of which have fallen significantly.

And if students want to feel a bit better about their textbook costs, they need only go to the local gas station. The CPI for gasoline has more than doubled over the last decade – a pace much faster than that of textbooks or tuition. As for two of college students' favorite vices, the results are split: The cost of alcohol hasn't quite kept pace with the broader CPI, but the cost of cigarettes has grown faster than the cost of either textbooks or tuition – both of which are arguably the better investment.

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