Students know that college is expensive. After all — they're the ones who'll be making student loan payments after graduation. But one major cost that can often be overlooked when estimating the cost of a degree is textbooks.
The College Board estimates that the average student spends more than $1,200 on textbooks every semester. To put that in context, the average net tuition and fees collected from full-time undergraduate students at public universities last school year was $4,140.
"Students think about tuition when they enroll in a course," Michael Hansen, CEO of education company Cengage, tells CNBC Make It. "But textbook costs are often unexpected, and that makes it even more stressful." According to a survey of 1,651 current and former college students by Cengage, 85 percent say that textbook and course material expenses are financially stressful, and 43 percent say they have skipped meals in order to afford these costs.
For decades, textbook companies were able to charge exorbitant prices because students were required to buy the books that professors assigned.