The final blow to the affordability crisis in higher education
While the program week is often seen as a relatively relaxed period of each semester, it is by no means lacking in stressors. One of those stressors is purchasing the required course materials. Buying textbooks – more specifically, discovering their costs – was one of the biggest stressors I faced, along with many others, every semester. I panicked at the thought of spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks, a decent portion of which was useless beyond taking up space, emptying my wallet, and collecting dust before finally selling them back to a fraction of the price. As if tuition fees weren’t high enough, university textbooks only perpetuate the affordability crisis of higher education. While faculty should be blamed for allocating compulsory textbooks that place an unnecessary financial burden on students, colleges can also play a vital role in ensuring that students have access to the resources they need without draining their pockets. pockets.
For many students, paying tuition fees is already a financial challenge. A survey by Barnes and Noble College Insights found that 85% of respondents said paying for higher education for the 2021-2022 school year will be a challenge. One unfortunate way for students to manage their budget constraints is to skip the purchase of required course materials. A study by VitalSources found that 85% of students respondents had chosen not to purchase or delay the purchase of course materials at some point in their academic careers, and 91% of these students said cost was the ultimate reason they did not purchase their manuals. Half of those students also said their grades suffered. The average cost of college being $ 35,720 per year in the United States, there should be no reason that students should not have access to all the materials they need to be successful in their courses at no additional cost.
Between 2006 and 2016, the price of textbooks increased by 88% and has grown by over 1000% since the 1970s. This has caused me and many others to make some tough choices at the start of each semester. I vividly remember the dilemmas of whether to buy a required $ 300 textbook or give it up and try to find help from free online sources. In one of my classes, a professor of mine insisted that students shell out over $ 350 for the latest edition of an economics textbook, despite their claim that previous editions were nearly identical, missing just a few. – some of the new practical problems. I wondered if this was a worthwhile investment. I decided it wasn’t, so I went to Amazon and bought the previous edition for $ 12. Not having the required edition had no noticeable impact on my ability to complete the course. This is just one example of the financial burden professors place on students when they are unrealistic about the actual resources required for students to succeed in their courses and fail to find the cheapest option. which has almost equivalent educational value. My library full of “required” textbooks that haven’t been touched and are still in their original plastic packaging also signals that teachers aren’t paying enough attention to what they assign as required textbooks.
This issue is becoming more and more controversial as professors are able to take advantage of students by assigning them textbooks that they have written themselves. Another survey by Barnes and Noble College Insights found that 67% of respondents, who were all currently enrolled students, “had purchased an assigned book written by their teacher.” Although the American Association of University Teachers claims that there are no conflict of interest in professors assigning work they have written, forcing students to line the pockets of professors whose salaries they are already paying is an undeniable ethical dilemma. It also raises the question of the course teaching a unique perspective. If professors already teach courses based on their perceptions and opinions, especially for subjects with more subjective subjects, their arguments are reinforced by materials that come from the same point of view. This is not to say that there is no value in material written by professors, but the least that professors can do is provide them with free or even affordable access and make sure that they are. supported by other texts.
Assigning expensive textbooks is not the only option when it comes to providing students with additional materials. I have been fortunate to have several professors throughout my academic career who advocated making the university more affordable and accessible and only assigned the required readings that they provided to students for free. Asking faculty and college departments to find low-cost or free material can even improve the variety of perspectives covered by course material and the diversity of opinions expressed in classroom discussions.
Covering student textbook costs or switching to a model of only awarding open source readings isn’t just a good idea. In the wake of the financial crisis due to COVID-19, the Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana not only approved a new tuition fee model that will freeze tuition fees for the next two years; it is also using its Federal Higher Education Emergency Fund to cover the cost of textbooks for the 2021-2022 school year for all of its students. While this may be a short-term solution, colleges across the country have implemented the decision to only award long-term free textbooks.
More generally, OpenStax is a Rice University-based non-profit initiative that works to improve access to education by providing books under open license. OpenStax is already used in 48% of colleges across the country, and many colleges have allocated much of their required textbooks to the organization. Pasadena City College, University of Georgia, Salt Lake Community College, and University of Maryland Global Campus (formerly University of Maryland, University College) are the four largest colleges served by OpenStax’s free textbooks – serving nearly 170 000 students in total and saving over an estimated $ 15.5 million for students in these four schools alone.
The current model of demanding students spending thousands of dollars a year on compulsory textbooks, some of which are never even used, is unsustainable. Along with the tuition affordability crisis, the cost of textbooks is another threat to academic success and student retention. However, the problem is not insoluble, as evidenced by the many colleges across the country working to remove barriers to the affordability of required course materials.
At the individual level, teachers still play a crucial role in overcoming this widespread problem. Students shouldn’t have to beg professors to worry about the financial burdens of their class. I have great gratitude to my professors who have made a conscious effort to only allot free material, but this feeling must be rooted in every professor’s decision-making process regarding required readings. Departments and colleges have the ability to keep the costs of the textbooks used, so it should be a concerted endeavor between different levels of college decision-making hierarchies to make colleges more affordable and accessible. If colleges support their mission to advance knowledge and be inclusive and equitable, then their actions need to speak louder than their words.
Theodora Vorias is an opinion columnist and can be contacted at [email protected].