Here's a lesson every college student learns before they even enter their first class: Textbooks are expensive.

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

And, according to federal statistics, prices continue to rise. In fact, textbook prices have jumped by more than 1,000 percent since the late 1970s.

The added expense takes a toll on students and their families who may already be dealing with the cost of enrollment, meal plans and living on campus.

"I have to open a credit card to pay for all my books, and my family cannot afford to help me or they would," said Amanda Obrien, a student at Brookdale Community College. "The book prices are outrageous."

Obrien said her book costs average up to $350 per semester. That's actually not too bad, compared to the situation at other schools.

Kathy Booth, assistant manager of the bookstore at Monmouth University, said prices have gotten "crazy" over the past few decades. Thirty years ago, when she began working at the campus store, most hardcover books ran between $50 and $100. Today, books for just one class can be four times that amount.

That's because stand-alone books are no longer an option for many courses. Instead, they come as packages, offering online access codes, a study guide, a compact disc and other features that jack up the price.

Booth said a spike in prices can also be blamed on the cost of paper and the fact that a select number of major publishers own the rights to most of the required classroom material.

"We always tell students, go to class first," Booth said. "Get your syllabus. Look and see what the professor's actually making you read. Some professors have changed their attitude; they decide not to use the book."

Sticker-shocked by textbooks year after year, students have learned to look beyond the onsite bookstore when purchasing their books for class.

As a freshman at Monmouth, Christopher Rubinetti spent about $900 at the campus bookstore. But he eventually learned that he could get the same material at a lower price, just by browsing online.

"There's a lot of different online options that are a lot cheaper, and it's also easier to find used books," said Rubinetti, now a junior. "I got some of my most expensive textbooks for $40."

To help students with costs, Monmouth's official website offers a comparison chart for each book that's offered, showing students the different prices available through electronic delivery and other retailers.