The Direct Network

All Types of Course Materials for All Types of Students

Posted by Kate Seat on Aug 18, 2015 8:00:00 AM
Topics: course materials
The following story isn't real — but it could be. Many families have parents who have resumed their studies, sometimes even beginning their college careers at the same time as one of their children. And the amount of "nontraditional" students is increasing every year: 75% of undergraduates have at least one characteristic that classifies them as nontraditional (according to the NCES).


This August marks big changes for the Chen family. Derek, the oldest child, is heading off to a state school about two hours away. He’s excited about starting college — and getting to spend some time away from his two younger sisters — but he’s also nervous about what to expect.

Financial aid and scholarships will help cover tuition and expenses like course materials and supplies; he’s also saved some money from his summer job to take care of any shortfall (though he’s hoping he can use most of it for something more fun).

Heading Back to School

Michelle Chen, Derek’s mother, is also starting school this semester. While Derek was going through the application process and deciding which school he wanted to attend, she realized that it was time to take the first steps toward her own college degree — and fulfilling a long-standing dream.

Even as a child, Michelle knew she wanted to be a nurse. All through high school, she excelled in her science classes and planned to start college immediately.

However, life intervened — after graduation, she had to support and care for an aging grandmother, putting her continuing education on hold indefinitely.

Shortly after her grandmother passed away, Michelle met Jim, who was on leave from his first tour in the Army.

Now, 3 kids and almost 20 years later, Michelle is ready to pick up where she left off.

For nearly ten years, she’s worked as an administrative assistant at a small law office. Since her family relies on two paychecks, she’ll have to continue to work full-time while attending the local community college. A mix of evening classes and online courses will give her a flexible schedule, but she’ll still be juggling her responsibilities at home and work with her course load as a student.

Getting Ready for the New Semester

During freshman orientation earlier in the summer, Derek asked the student guide assigned to his group for advice about buying his books.

The guide (a seasoned junior) complained about how expensive the books were for his engineering major, and that the previous semester, he’d waited to buy all of them until after class started to see if the professor was actually going to use them. He did admit that waiting to see which ones he truly needed meant that he ultimately had fewer options; because only new copies were still available in some cases, he ended up spending a bit more. He also had to depend on his friends in those classes for homework assignments until his books arrived.

While waiting made some sense to Derek, (he didn’t want to spend his own money for books that wouldn’t be used), the idea of falling behind made him nervous.

Once he'd registered for his classes, Derek checked out prices on his school's bookstore site.

After he'd compared listings and options, he ended up buying one book from a vendor located in another state. For the rest, he purchased or rented used copies of the books listed as required for his courses right through his school’s store. In some cases, it turned out that the eBook version was the cheapest option; in high school, he’d gotten used to reading for school on his iPad, so he knew that wouldn’t be a problem. In addition, he’d have less to carry across campus.

Mixing It Up

Michelle registered for her classes as soon as possible. Now that she'd made the decision to go back to school, she found that she couldn't wait to get started.

One evening after work, she stopped by the campus bookstore.She was surprised to see how many different choices she had for each book: new, used, rental, eBook . . . It was actually a little bit daunting, since she'd been expecting just new or used.

As she walked down the aisles, she considered her options:

  • It was likely that some of the books were ones she'd refer to throughout her studies (and maybe even afterward), so she knew she would want to own those.
  • She liked reading on her tablet, but didn't think she'd be able to concentrate if the material was difficult or too dense — though all three of her kids had seemed to have no problem picking up the skill of reading digital textbooks.
  • A few of her required books were bundles with access codes. She didn't know exactly what that would entail as far as classwork was concerned, but it seemed like her best bet was to buy new copies of those.

Michelle ended up purchasing a mix of new and used copies. The student employee working at the register explained that the access codes would give her access to quizzes, homework assignments and, in some cases, even digital versions of the book.

Off to a Great Start


Later that month, Michelle and Jim drop Derek off at school, then return home so she can start her own classes. She's relieved to find that she's not the oldest student, and quickly decides that she's made the right choice in going back to school.

Quick Stats: Students and Course Materials*

  • 75% of students keep at least one of their textbooks, mainly because it will be useful in a future class or their career
  • In Spring 2015, only 3% of students didn't acquire any course materials
  • Cost is the most frequent reason cited for not purchasing materials
  • 31.6% purchase during the first week of class (those who purchased earlier shopped online)
  • 86% of students prefer to shop online or a combination of online and in-store

 *OnCampus Research (Spring 2015) “Student Watch™:Atttitudes & behaviors toward course materials” NACS Foundation

About Kate Seat

Kate Seat is a former copywriter at MBS. When away from work, she’s either creating one-of-a-kind art dolls, reading or watching way too much tv with her husband, daughter and an irritable chinchilla named Klaus.

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