Higher Education Retail Market Facts & Figures, 2013

The National Association of College Stores (NACS) plays a key role in serving its members by tracking the higher education retail market and reporting the latest findings.


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Student Spending

Student Watch 2013: Retail Insight Student Shopping Trends provides a broad view of student spending based on more than 11,000 usable surveys received in October, 2012. Approximately 87% of students say the price of products is an important factor in deciding which stores they shop. Three-fourths of respondents say product selection plays any important role, and 73% say the location of the store influences their shopping decision. For stores they have shopped during the past three months, 64% selected Wal-Mart, 61% indicated Target, followed by dollar stores (Dollar General, Dollar Tree) at 35%. According to this most recent Student Watch data, students report spending an average of $662 on required course materials in the past 12 months.  


College Students, Full-time and Part-time

Higher education enrollment figures indicate the number of students registered or enrolled at an institution. There was a significant change in student enrollment in recent years. In addition to an increase in total enrollment, there was also a change in the number of students that were enrolled fulltime. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 62% of college students in the U.S. were enrolled fulltime, down from 75% that were enrolled full-time last year.


Why it matters -

The number of students is one of the most common measures used when comparing college campuses or talking about the college market. It is very important to evaluate both total enrollment and the FTE [full-time equivalent] numbers for institutions, as well as the percentages of full-time and part-time students, in order to make relevant comparisons.


Student Spending in College Stores

In 2011-12, spending per FTE student was an average of $711 at their campus store. Of this total amount, an average of $420 was spent on new [$296] and used [$124] course materials in the store or its online site. The rest of the money spent in college stores was on a variety of products such as insignia apparel, computer products, gifts, supplies, and food. As seen in this data, students do not shop exclusively at their college store, even for textbooks.


Textbook Prices

The price of individual textbooks varies greatly, depending on subject matter and many other factors. For college stores, any book or other media that is required or recommended for class is a textbook. This is a much broader definition than is used by publishers or often assumed by college students. And it is a significant factor in the average price reported from the NACS Financial Survey data. Textbooks for college stores will include many books and materials not published as textbooks. A few examples of general books that could be sold as course materials would be Jane Austen novels for literature classes, biographies for history courses, or current paperbacks for sociology and political science students. This broader definition results in significant differences in estimates of textbook prices and the total textbook market, compared to estimates based only on "published textbooks."




 The 2011-12 average price reported above was based on the sale of 9.5 million new books sold in 194 U.S. college stores. That year's average price for a used book was calculated from the sale of 5.5 million books.


New and Used Textbooks

Another big issue for college stores and students are used textbooks. While some would seem to suggest that used books will overtake new books in the college market, this is simply not feasible. Used books are not published, they are only available after new textbooks are purchased and then put back into the market as used. From the 2013 College Store Industry Financial Report, new book sales were more than double [2.5 times] the amount of used book sales dollars. Unit sales showed similar results. The ratio of new units to used units was 1.7 to 1.


There are multiple factors that limit the total market for used textbooks. Faculty must agree to use the same title from year to year, adoptions must be received in time for stores to obtain used texts; and there had to be sufficient new text sales of the desired titles to come back into the market as used books. While there are basic courses that fit this model, if all college course offerings are considered, it is easier to see where used books could not be a significant option.  


Total College Store Market

NACS' estimate of U.S. college store sales was $10.45 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The following graph shows market estimates since 2002-03 with corresponding enrollments in higher education:


College Store Textbook Rentals

Of the U.S. stores completing the 2012 Financial Survey, only 7% did not answer questions on textbook rentals. For stores answering rental questions, 78% offered some form of text rental program in 2011-12, compared to 68% in the 2011 survey, and just 9% in 2009-10. It is apparent that stores ramped up quickly to implement textbook rentals and are now refining their programs. The following graph shows survey responses for U.S. stores with rentals by type of campus.



A majority of stores with rental programs also provided data on the sales/income they received from their rentals. Even though 78% of U.S. stores reported some level of textbook rentals, the actual dollar amounts they reported were quite small. While some stores may have a more significant percentage in text rentals, the average per store is low. For all U.S. college stores in this survey, textbook rental sales/income was just 2% of all the sales dollars they reported for 2011-12. Rentals calculated per student were consistent with the low average per store, as seen in the following graph.





Higher Education & Student Demographics

The National Center for Education Statistics reports a total of 5,454 institutions of higher education in the United States. The majority of higher education institutions [66%] are private colleges or universities, while 34% are public. There is a closer percentage of four-year schools [57%] compared to two-year [43%] colleges or technical schools.


While college students are often referred to by age and student status as a single market, the college market is actually quite diverse, formed from a wide mix of consumers wielding substantial buying power. This market is also diverse geographically.


For many institutions, there are significant differences in total enrollment and the FTE number of students. And while the FTE number of students allows for an "apples-to-apples" comparison between campuses, knowing the corresponding total enrollment for an FTE number puts it in context. A campus and store serving the FTE of 4,000 students and a total enrollment of 4,200 will be significantly different from the campus with the same 4,000 FTE number, but an enrollment of 12,000 students.

Of the 21.6 million college students -

86% were undergraduates;
63% were at four-year institutions;
57% were women;
35% were minorities;
62% were full-time students;
70% were at public institutions, only 30% at private schools; even though private
institutions make up 66% of higher education.

These figures were reported in Almanac 2013-14, published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 23, 2013. To see more information on students and enrollment, go to www.nces.ed.gov/fastfacts


College Stores

NACS estimates 4,500 college stores provide service to U.S. higher education. There is not a one-to-one relationship between schools and college stores. Larger universities will have several stores to serve students; smaller schools in a local area may be served by a single store; and several schools in an urban community may share multiple retail outlets. While many college stores share a common mission, they vary greatly in size, location, ownership, and customer base.


The largest percentage of college stores are owned or operated by the institution. On-campus stores are mostly institutional, but they may also be operated under contract, as cooperatives, or by student associations. Off-campus stores are typically private businesses.

Sales volume in college stores is determined by many factors, but the major influence on sales seems most closely tied to the size of the institution it serves. Average sales for U.S. college stores that participated in the most recent financial survey [Fall 2012] were $7.3 million in 2011-12; median sales of stores in the survey were half that, at $3.6 million.   



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