The Washington Post is asking why college students are illegally downloading their textbooks for free. The simplest answer is given in the second paragraph, which states that prices have risen 82% between 2002 and 2012. Prices have risen far beyond the reasonable expectations of inflation and texts are more than reproductions of the previous year with minor changes and page shifts.
There has been a steady, publishing drumbeat that a person with a college education will earn many times more money and enjoy stronger job security than someone with just a high school degree. I believe the studies and I also see that the most likely fields of employment require at BA. The response is a push for college degrees.
Tuition in the United States are set by states in the public universities but large numbers attend private colleges and universities that set their own tuition and fees every year. In most other countries, the universities are funded by the national government, giving the government the ability to get their students into colleges. In the United States, the college system is a non-profit, market-driven enterprise, even the state schools.
The economy stinks. Federal funding for research professors has been curtailed. States trying to balance budgets have jacked up tuition rates and also curtailed college funding. Colleges respond by limiting full professors on tenure track and hiring adjuncts to teach undergraduate courses. College sports teams are doing well for the most part, generating lots of income but not for the benefit of the greater student body.
Imagine going tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a BA. or going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for an advanced or professional degree. On top of these bills, publishing houses want students to pay $200-$500 for a textbook of recycled material.
Really? You are surprised they are using their educations to afford their education by being internet savvy? The model is unsustainable and the stealing of etextbooks is only a symptom of the endemic problem of funding higher education in the United States.