While I’m normally someone who is proud to have surpassed the national average, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled to spend $700 on one semester of used textbooks. When I showed up at the bookstore to pickup my online order, the bookstore employee told me that my order had garnered some attention due to the astounding volume of books. I had added the classes that totaled to the greatest amount of books of any other student. I laughed, and said something stupid like, ‘well that’s the life of a history major!’ Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the burden of a student who is barely going to make a rent payment and finds out they have textbook cost that exceeds the tuition payments they had very carefully budgeted for.
The most ethical problem textbooks carry, whether they cost students $600 or $1200 a year is the unanticipated cost. Why are colleges not communicating with students actual textbook costs, and why do colleges not regulate or consider textbook costs? I loved this recent study by Jeff Denning (BYU) that showed how reducing community college tuition by $1000 can increase enrollment by 5.1 percentage points. If only there was a way to reduce costs by one thousand dollars!!!!!! 😉 All joking aside, this is how students become forsaken by the education system. I can complain abut student debt, or wanting to buy nicer things, but nothing is more integral than providing access to education to those in our communities.
Another issue is the utility that the textbooks serve for the consumers of the textbook. I have been in many a classroom where I comply and buy my textbooks at the beginning of the semester but it’s function as a supplementary material is weak at best. Some professors only have you use a couple of pages of a full text! If a text is useless to me, and to all of the other students, why are we even spending $200 on it? In my opinion, if I can be expected to read 5 different textbooks a semester, a faculty member can skim an open textbook. All that, and students can save money that can be used to alleviate financial stress from students. Whether it’s a matter of access or making education a little bit less less financially overwhelming for students, the barrier of cost of textbooks needs some attention.