Skip a Meal or Buy a Textbook; Some College Students’ Real Decision
February 20, 2023 – Olivia Kongevold
In the last 45 years or so, the cost of textbooks has increased by over 1000%. Paying tuition for most college students is already financially exhausting; to have to spend hundreds on books and course materials throughout the semester is unnecessary. Especially if the “required” materials are simply fillers for professors’ syllabi.
Some schools, like LIU Post, require a textbook in their syllabus. A syllabus is a mutual responsibility between the professor and students to uphold the expectations of the course. However, not all professors stick to their side of the commitment and teach their curriculum without the required textbook. When professors fail to communicate this notion, that is money down the drain for students who already bought the text in hopes of being prepared for the first day.
“It was so annoying,” stated Grace Herley, a transfer student from LIU Post. She now attends SUNY Farmingdale as a junior. “Especially in my science lecture classes, too. The professor would have a textbook that cost almost $325 on his syllabus, but we never even used it. Like, you couldn’t have mentioned that to us on the first day of class?”
Students try to find ways around buying textbooks and other course materials. Renting is a frequent option, but rental books can be just as expensive.
“PDFs are the way to go,” joked Ethan Morales. He proudly admitted to finding an older edition of the required lab manual for his science lab course in his first year. “Do your research, and maybe you’ll be lucky. Worth a shot.” Free versions are a gold mine for college students like Ethan, only if they are fortunate enough to be in a class that requires that specific text.
In some cases, professors provide photocopied pages of the required text for the first few weeks of the semester. Doing so allows some extra time for students to acquire the book however they can. But due to copyright infringement, there is only so much a professor can get away with.
It is crucial to recognize that textbooks can be vital for specific college courses. Professors can base their entire curriculum on the required text, thus proving its significance for students. However, if textbooks are only utilized for one lesson, they should not be worth buying, no matter the cost.
As previously stated, some students try to find ways around buying textbooks; about 66% of students try to avoid purchasing textbooks due to the high prices. In addition, almost a quarter of students have stated they have picked up extra hours at work to cover their textbook costs, and about 11% have even had to skip meals in a 2020 survey. Some might not buy them at all, which can damage their grades.
On the other hand, others may argue that the boom in remote learning caused a decline in hardcover book sales because of the pandemic. This counter-argument is correct; the demand for hardcover books saw a decrease in profits in 2020. Nevertheless, students paid an average of 23% more for online books during that same time, according to Education Data Initiative. Two of the biggest textbook publishers, Pearson and Cengage, even saw a 30-40% growth in digital book sales.
Of course, students renting older editions, pre-owned, or used textbooks are great alternatives to buying the newest, most expensive version. But instead of having the responsibility of finding the most inexpensive version fall on the students, who already pay tuition for almost every other factor in college, textbooks should be provided free of charge by the schools. In her article, “Collegetextbooks: The final blow of higher education’s affordability crisis,” author Theodora Vorias stated, “in conjunction with the college tuition affordability crisis, the cost of textbooks is another threat to academic success and student retention.” Colleges and universities must reconsider the way they budget, seeing as some of their “customers” who are paying for an education to aid them in the job market after they graduate are having to decide whether they should skip a meal or skip a textbook.
Liberal Arts and Science major and sophomore Nora Cowlishaw vented their frustration over the “stupid requirements” from their previous courses at Farmingdale. “Why do I have to pay for parking and meals and books on top of my tuition? I chose to commute to save on money, but that’s not the case anymore… I had to buy an $85 lab manual, and I used only two sheets out of it. I can’t rent it to anyone or resell it because those two pages are missing.”
In courses that do not incorporate their requisite books, students should be notified of this information by their professors. Moreover, colleges should offer the book as an optional purchase for classes that do not rely upon said required material for more than a few lessons. By doing so, colleges can ease the financial burden of students to promote more admissions, better grades, and overall healthier students.
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