25 percent of college students use financial aid to buy textbooks, survey says

Bookshelves containing textbooks are seen on the second floor of the UConn Co-op in Storrs, Connecticut, on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

A quarter of students surveyed in a ConnPirg report released Wednesday used financial aid to purchase textbooks.

The report is based on a survey of nearly 5,000 college students from about 130 different institutions across the country.

“We no longer can think of high textbook prices as just an inconvenience,” Saman Azimi, a fifth semester finance major and UConnPirg President, said. “They are a serious threat to the affordability of higher education.“

The report, titled “Covering the Cost: Why we no longer Afford to Ignore High Textbook Prices,” explains several of the reasons behind why textbooks have become so expensive. According to the report, two primary reasons are a lack of competition between textbook manufacturers and a lack of choice on the part of students.  It further elaborates on the extent of this problem by showing how textbook prices have gone up 73 percent since 2006.

Despite the seemingly bleak outlook that it presents, the ConnPirg report also emphasizes the impact that open source textbooks can have in reducing costs. Open source textbooks are defined by their open copyright license, allowing students to use them virtually free as ebooks or at a minimal printing fee.  

“The current textbook market is a lose-lose for students and so long as the market is controlled by a few giants, it’s going to stay that way,” Azimi said. “A solution that has arisen that already could save students billions if it had a fair shot to compete with traditional publishers.”

At the University of Connecticut, the use of open source textbooks has already gained some traction. In a combined effort with the Undergraduate Student Senate and the UConn libraries, ConnPirg has launched a campaign directed towards getting professors to adopt open source textbooks.  

“We started working on the open textbook angle here at UConn last fall, but this is a campaign that student PIRGs have been running for about a decade now,” Azimi said. 

The UConn Libraries have also been extremely crucial in exploring the possibility of using open source books. 

“University libraries across the country have been concerned about the high cost of different kinds of monopolies such as those overscholarly articles and scholarly books written here by faculty and then distributed by commercial groups,” Martha Bedard, UConn’s Vice Provost for Libraries, said. “It was natural for us to jump in with students.”

In order to promote the use of open source textbooks, UConnPirg has taken a bottom up approach by meeting with individual faculty members to discuss changing their textbooks.  According to UConnPirg Campus Organizer Donna Farvard, involved students met with about 40 different professors over the last year and a half. 

“This is a nationwide effort that all of the state Pirgs are pushing,” Azimi said. “Our goal as UConnPirg is to work on issues that are for the public interest and for students, and we run surveys, but its also common sense that the cost of higher education is going up.”


Fatir Qureshi is a staff writer at The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at fatir.qureshi@uconn.edu.