I hope this public health crisis hasn’t been too stressful or back-breaking for you. After all, there are many other ways for us to break our backs, whether literally or metaphorically. One of the most effective ways to do so in both respects is to carry the heavy burden of textbooks that are supposed to enrich our college education. As college students (and eventual parents of college students), the issues of textbook affordability and accessibility remain pertinent to us and future generations. In short, our current educational system fails to maximize the benefits for us college students, particularly because course materials are too expensive and often difficult to access, and textbook manufacturers lack the motivation to reverse such trends. However, a transition to open-educational resources would transform the university landscape for the better, provided we advocate effectively for it.
First of all, the cost of course materials for us college students and our families is too high, especially on top of other expenses. The College Board says a typical four-year college student should expect to pay between $1,200 and $1,300 for books and supplies. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) indicates that on average each enrolled college student spends around $500 at college stores during a given year. And average textbook prices have skyrocketed, particularly for new textbooks throughout the first half of this past decade. The advent of used and rental purchasing options and of initiatives like the UConn Bookstore Student Accounts Program, which allows students to transfer bookstore expenses to their university fee bill, is a step in the right direction. But we must do more to mitigate the need for increased student debt and longer working hours.
Yet we college students often face issues with our course materials beyond their exorbitance, because even those of us who can afford them suffer from accessibility issues. Such issues stem primarily from these ironically-named “access codes” that are bundled with several printed textbooks. Each code provides access to supplemental online material that’s meant to streamline the overall learning experience; when professors make such material mandatory, it puts those of us with less technological savvy or access at an unfair disadvantage. It also doesn’t help that each code costs roughly $100. To make matters worse, these expensive codes are often sold exclusively at campus bookstores, and we can’t even mitigate our losses by selling them to other students in need because they typically expire by semester’s end. This negatively impacts our ability to take a satisfactory number of courses and fulfill major or general education requirements. These problems are largely unavoidable unless our professors and universities abide by their obligation to make course materials more modern and accessible for us all.
Given how apparent and urgent these issues are, you may be wondering why they persist so heavily. Well, textbook manufacturers are incentivized not to change their inflexible and corrupt practices, which has allowed higher education to remain a largely for-profit enterprise. Corporations like Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill have monopolized the market via mergers and acquisitions of smaller publishers. While they’ve gained efficiencies as a result, they still face stiff competition from used-book dealers and foreign markets and have acted accordingly. Also, campus bookstores are motivated to restock their supply primarily with new textbooks, as that’s their most time and cost-effective option. Lastly, manufacturers and bookstores have worked to offset the industry’s low profit margins with price increases for new and old textbooks.
Fortunately, there’s a substantial and viable cure to these ills, which involves transitioning to open-educational resources that are more accessible and either low-cost or no-cost. There’s promising, albeit limited, data in favor of this solution. As I alluded to in the intro, UConnPIRG and other Student PIRG chapters have been highly effective in advocating for open-educational resources on college campuses via collaboration with students, faculty, library staff and administrators and by lobbying for legislation. To maintain this momentum, I call upon you all to rally fellow students around the issue and lobby for your professors to use open textbooks (and for your university and local legislators to provide funding and other support).
In conclusion, we must advocate strongly for the betterment of our educational infrastructure. Again, our inability to afford and access course materials and to avoid textbook manufacturers’ maladaptive tendencies has hindered our academic experiences. But open-educational resources will allow us to reassume control of our learning environments and reach our fullest potential. So let’s push for a fairer and more just educational system. That way, if we ever have to schedule an appointment with our local chiropractor, it’ll be because our backs are wearing down naturally due to old age or a hard day’s work!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.