The exorbitant cost of education

College costs don’t stop at tuition and room and board- many colleges have additional costs in the form of expensive learning materials needed for many classes. (Photo by Alexander Mils from Pexels)

With the new semester starting, most students are faced with a few important tasks, such as figuring out where classes are, getting organized in terms of their schedule and deciding on extracurricular activities. One of the most important tasks revolves around classes. Each semester, with a new syllabus comes a new set of textbooks and other necessary materials that, often, students have to pay for.

The cost of tuition, housing, dining and other services is already extremely high, and unaffordable in many cases. On top of that, students have to pay for textbooks, access codes and other materials in order to participate in classes. If students don’t purchase these materials, it usually means that they can’t do assignments or study for exams.

Resources for classes must be more accessible, from a financial aspect, for students. We should not be spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks that we’ll maybe use a couple times during the semester or programs that can easily be replaced by PDF assignments and HuskyCT.

A prime example of this is the program TopHat, which is essentially a glorified version of HuskyCT. I used this for one class, and all it really did was act as a place where we could take quizzes, read about what we were going to do in lab and turn in assignments. All of this could have easily been replaced by HuskyCT — which would have saved me and everyone else in my class about $100 each.

According to the College Board, the average college student, as of 2018, spends more than $1200 on course materials, including textbooks and other resources. Although resources such as Library Genesis and Z-Lib — where you may or may not be able to find required textbooks for free — help for many classes, some also require online access codes that work for a semester or so, rendering these free textbooks useless. 

It is the same case with buying or renting used textbooks. In a study released by USPIRG in 2018, it was found that about four in 10 college courses bundled textbooks with access codes. Access codes force students to pay full price for textbooks that they’ll use for maybe one semester. 

Many students prefer to take notes and complete homework by hand. Oftentimes these physical resources and assignments can serve the same purpose as online ones while being much more accessible. (Photo by Monstera from Pexels)

In some cases, forgoing assignments using access codes may be unavoidable. However, many classes could change the way assignments are done; instead of forcing students to buy a certain program, if the materials were available in the form of a PDF — like a PDF containing practice problems with a due date so students could scan and submit their answers — this would be much more cost effective.

Sometimes, online programs aren’t even the best way to learn. For one of my classes, I remember having to use this website for homework that was worth about 10% of my grade. When I got answers wrong, instead of explaining how to do them correctly, it left me to figure it out by myself. That certainly wasn’t helpful come exam time, when I wasn’t sure how to even approach certain problems. Not only did I pay an exorbitant amount of money for access to this program, but it didn’t even help me learn.

Education resources should be much more accessible, from a financial perspective, and they should be helpful for students. If necessary materials cost a high price and they aren’t even helpful, what is the point in having students use them?

Textbooks are a necessary part of college learning, as they provide important reading materials for courses. They also contribute to college costs by hundreds of dollars per semester and exist as a large expense for education. (Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

In order to help with this, some professors have posted PDF versions of certain textbooks or have given students more cost-effective methods for obtaining them. Although this is much appreciated, this must be a more school-wide effort. Classes should be more accessible to everyone, not just the select few who happen to be in classes that don’t require expensive materials.

Certain schools now use “open education resources,” which are free learning materials that are in the public domain or are licensed for free use. This gives students access to certain course materials for free and for however long they need it for.  

This can be implemented at a specific university, or nationwide. In 2019, the Affordable College Textbooks Act was introduced in Congress to support the use of open textbooks, therefore working to reduce the cost of textbooks and other course materials. If a bill like this becomes law, it could help make college materials more affordable for students across the nation. 

In the meantime, before this act hopefully becomes a law, individual universities need to focus on making this a reality within their own school. Students are struggling to pay for course materials and this would help them immensely. Higher education cannot continue to be this inaccessible, and reducing the cost of course materials would be a big step in the right direction.

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