College student total spending on required course materials dipped from $415 in the 2018-2019 academic year to an average of $413 in the 2019-2020 year, according to the “Student Watch Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials: 2020 Report,” which is supported by the National Association of College Stores. The survey also found that the average spend per course dropped 6% in the last academic year.

Brittany Conley, research analyst, NACS OnCampus Research, said the decline in spending on materials per course was higher than the overall decline because students enrolled in more courses in the most recent year compared to 2018-19. “Averaged out, students spent $47 per course on materials this year, compared to $50 per course last year,” she said.

Highlights from the report, which is compiled from responses from approximately 14,200 college students attending 35 two- and four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., include:

Use of digital materials continues to grow. One in every five paid materials was a digital unit this year, compared to one in seven paid materials last year. The percent of students downloading free materials online also rose, doubling from spring 2019 to 26% in spring 2020.

Students spent more on technology than course materials. Students spent $100+ more on technology (for such things as a laptop, flash drive, MS Word).than for their courses this year than they did for course materials. Last year students spent about the same between the two categories.

Students wait to obtain course materials. In 2019-20, just 34% of students had the majority of their materials before classes started. Of those students who did not have most of their materials by the first day, 67% said they delayed in order to find out if the materials were really necessary.

Some students don’t obtain all materials. About 28% of students say they didn’t obtain at least one of their required materials in 2019-20, up from 25% last year.

Students value course materials. 80% of students say they learn at least a moderate amount from their course materials. The majority (69%) say they’re satisfied with their materials regardless of cost. Only one in 10 students say they’re dissatisfied with the quality of their course materials.

More than half are satisfied with inclusive access. 51% of students participating in at least one inclusive access course indicated satisfaction with the delivery model, while 21% indicated dissatisfaction. The top reason for dissatisfaction among the 21% of students dissatisfied was not liking the digital format. Inclusive access programs deliver course materials, most often in digital formats, by the first day of class at a reduced cost, typically as a fee or included in tuition.