Textbook costs add onto the already long list of expenses for college students and are a burden for students and families who are already struggling financially. This can cause students to fall deeper into debt, work longer hours and make sacrifices to ensure they have the correct materials for their classes.
According to the College Board, the average undergraduate student budgets $1,300 for textbooks and supplies each year. UConnPIRG identified this as a problem years ago and created the Textbook Affordability Campaign to advocate on students’ behalf and apply pressure on publishers to make textbooks more affordable.
Recently, UConnPIRG partnered with USG to launch the Textbook Exchange Network (TEN) on UConn’s campus. TEN was founded in 2016 at Tufts University with the goal of providing access to affordable learning materials. TEN is a student-run textbook market where students can buy and sell their textbooks. TEN is similar to UConn’s Buy or Sell Facebook Page, but students will now have the opportunity to purchase and sell books in a safer manner using TEN’s software that adds security and helps facilitate communication between buyers and sellers.
“What they provide in this partnership is software and expertise,” said Dalton Hawie, a sixth semester English and political science double major and Deputy Director of Outreach for the Academic Affairs Committee. “A lot of the logistical issues that come from running an exchange network on a campus of any scale, let alone a big college campus like UConn … can be swept away with the free software that TEN provides.”
TEN’s team is composed of student engineers, software designers, data scientists and business operations personnel to ensure that students from the member universities can take part in safe textbook exchanges that allow them to save money, be able to afford textbooks and succeed in the classroom. According to TEN’s website, since its founding in 2016, the network has facilitated over $504,000 worth of textbooks.
“Textbook affordability is something that resonates with so many students.”
“Textbook affordability is something that resonates with so many students,” Katherine Spinnato, a fourth semester history major and Advocacy Director for Academic Affairs, said. “There are so many students who have different financial situations and it’s a way to curb that.”
With COVID-19 creating additional financial struggles for many students, TEN will eliminate the burden of paying hundreds of dollars for textbooks and instead decrease prices significantly and also allow students to profit from their used textbooks.
Tufts first reached out to UConnPIRG and USG toward the end of summer 2020 and both organizations were instantly on board with the idea.
“All of us immediately fell in love with it because it was such an amazing program … and can save so many students money,” Shafina Chowdhury, a fourth semester accounting and applied math double major and the Affordable Textbooks Campaign Coordinator, said.
However, logistical issues related to COVID-19 delayed the start of the exchange until this semester. TEN is now up and running and UConnPIRG and USG will be collecting and storing books during the spring 2021 semester. The textbooks will be available to buy during the following semester.
“It takes some time to get the exchange started,” Spinnato said. “You can’t buy books through the exchange if there are no books in the inventory.”
Students who are interested in taking part in this initiative can fill out the pre-sell form to provide initial information about pricing and the condition of their textbooks.
Once the two-week campus quarantine ends, a specific room in the Student Union will be agreed upon and students can begin dropping off their textbooks. Textbooks will remain stored in the designated area until they are sold or, if after a period of two years passes without the book being sold, the student can choose to take the book back, or it will be donated to a local book drive. Along the way, students will also have the option to adjust the price of their textbooks for a greater chance of them being purchased.
Though this campaign will prove to be beneficial to students, problems could arise in terms of publisher and university relations.
“One of the biggest roadblocks is that every university tends to have a contract with whatever bookstore they affiliate with … Part of that contract is a non-compete clause.”
“One of the biggest roadblocks is that every university tends to have a contract with whatever bookstore they affiliate with … Part of that contract is a non-compete clause,” Hawie said.
TEN has provided the campaign coordinators with expertise about common roadblocks that other schools have run into to prevent any serious problems from occurring. In order to prevent potential pushback from Barnes and Noble or the UConn administration, USG and UConnPIRG have been transparent about their operations and have made it clear they are not profiting from any portion of the exchange. Instead, they are simply facilitating communication between students and creating a safe, reliable way for students to buy and sell books.
“Us being very forward and up front about what exactly we are doing allowed us to avoid a lot of potential pushback from the bookstore,” Hawie said.
TEN offers students an alternative option for buying textbooks that offsets one of the highest additional costs of college. Instead of acting as supplemental learning materials, textbooks have become a source of financial distress for students and TEN is working toward allowing all students to have affordable textbook access, no matter their financial situation. UConn is the latest university to become involved in this network and will join a coalition of schools who are putting students’ needs first by fostering access to affordable textbooks.
“There has already been a ton of student enthusiasm which is great,” Spinnato said.
If you are interested in taking part in the Textbook Network Exchange, visit the link here to access the pre-sell form.