It’s now early December. Classes are registered, finals are rapidly approaching and relief from the semester is just over a week away. But while students return home and celebrate holidays with the family, a potentially large expense lies in the not-so-distant future: textbooks for the spring semester. For socioeconomically disadvantaged students, this expense can be a burden after the joy of the holiday season. This is why eliminating the expense could benefit many students, even at an expensive liberal arts college like Willamette.
It’s probably not news that college textbooks are expensive, and a look on WU’s bookstore website confirms this. Just pick any random class and the cost becomes evident. For example, PSYC-210 requires a textbook titled “Psychology In Modules,” which costs $259.50 to buy or $114.18 to rent. Some textbooks on the bookstore website costs upwards of $300, such as “Calculus: Multivariable” for MATH-249, which costs $308.50.
For a full-time student, multiply a couple hundred dollars times four classes and the costs could end up falling in between $400 and $900. This is on top of WU’s tuition of $51,750, which is indicated on WU’s website. Although a few hundred extra dollars may not seem like much on top of tuition, keep in mind that many students at WU are receiving large amounts of financial aid.
The cost of college textbooks have increased by 82 percent in the last decade, according to U.S. News. In fact, U.S. News claims that textbook prices are now so high that some students are now forgoing buying them despite the fact that doing so jeopardizes grades. A Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey found that students pay an average of $1200 a year on textbooks and supplies alone. The study also revealed that 65 percent of college students have forgone buying a textbook due to cost, and of those, 94 percent were concerned that doing so would affect their grade.
Ethan Senack, a higher education associate at U.S. PIRG told U.S. News that the high price of textbooks comes from a lack of competition in the textbook market. There is no strict price control over textbook prices, and as a result, the costs of textbooks have risen three times the rate of inflation.
“[Students] can’t shop around and find the most affordable option, meaning there’s no consumer control on the market,” Senack told U.S. News.
The study also found that textbook prices affected which classes students chose to take. Some may opt for a lighter course load to save money, but this may end up being more expensive in the long run because doing so could mean staying in college for longer.
You can even go as far to say that many college textbooks are a scam. Virginia nursing student Liz Jewett wrote in the Richmond Times Dispatch about her frustration after buying a loose-leaf anatomy textbook. Jewett said that the textbook came as 500 unbound pages with a note stating to buy a four-inch binder, and compared the textbook to self-assemble IKEA furniture.
“I fear there will be a point that we will spend $300 on crumpled pieces of loose-leaf, covered with some poor schmuck’s handwritten explanation of mitosis,” Jewett said in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Some classes at WU also require these type of textbooks. For example, PHIL-140, or Symbolic Logic, is taken by many students to fulfill one of their two quantitative analysis (QA) requirements. The textbook “Language, Proof, and Logic” is required, and the lowest price you can find it for is $55. This textbook cannot be rented or re-sold because it has an access code to software that is necessary to complete homework for the course, and can only be used once. However, if textbooks were free at all colleges, publishers would have no incentive to create cheaply-made textbooks with access codes.
“If the University offered free rentals, and still had the option of buying the books, the costs would be minimized even more.”
However, with every argument comes a counterargument. If WU decided to give free textbooks to all students, it would be extremely expensive for the university. That could mean an increase in tuition, and in that case, you would still be paying for textbooks. One may also argue that obtaining textbooks should be the responsibility of the student and not the university.
But if textbook prices were added to tuition, financial aid and scholarships could be directly added to it to cover the costs. Additionally, if the university offered free rentals and still had the option of buying the books, the costs would be minimized even more. In terms of responsibility, college students already have enough responsibilities to worry about.
Fortunately, WU is recognizing this issue and taking a step in the right direction. WU students currently run the First-Generation Book Drive with support from the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), which allows first-generation college students to obtain a free textbook or two on a first-come-first-serve basis, according to the OMA. WU’s website also states that students can donate to the Drive at the end of each semester by dropping off books in bins located in Ford’s writing center, the Equity and Empowerment Center, in the Art Building and in the Office of Student Activities in Putnam University Center.
But overall, there would be very little drawbacks for universities to offer free textbooks. It would ensure that no student has an advantage or disadvantage due to their socioeconomic status, because all students would be given access to the same resources. With the amount of money students already need to pay to attend college, it only makes sense that textbooks should be provided free of charge.