On Aug. 31, The University of Connecticut announced in collaboration with Barnes & Noble the “Husky Book Bundle” program, an initiative which strives to provide students with more affordable textbooks and other course materials set to begin in the Spring 2023 semester. Students may elect to opt-out of the Book Bundle program beginning Dec. 17.
Although a handful of email communications have been sent to students regarding updated fee bill charges and a virtual town hall was held on Sept. 28 to discuss the program itself, The Daily Campus Editorial Board remains wary about the transparency surrounding the Husky Book Bundle, as well as the program’s effectiveness and equity.
The lack of exposure of the Book Bundle program — coupled with its opt-out modality, forcing anyone who misses the policy change to purchase the bundle — poses the risk of students paying an additional $285 for a program they may not consent to. When considering financial decisions of this caliber, more outreach and community education is necessary for opt-out costs this large to be fair.
The nature and timing of the bundle program also raises concerns regarding the university’s approach to creating a more financially sustainable environment for students. Tomorrow morning, the board of trustees will vote on an increased tuition rate of $660 for all undergraduate students attending in 2023-24, a decision that will void any potential savings produced by the Book Bundle. Furthermore, the bundle would only yield savings in any case to students whose textbook costs per semester are below $285. While the provost claimed students should feel enabled to opt-out and purchase their textbooks below $285, it is not encouraging when students are asked to opt-out rather than asked to opt-in.
We believe that the student body is entitled to more deliberate and consistent exposure when the university implements a program that will cost the student body nearly $6 million — assuming no student opts out. Further, a $285 charge to each member of the student body nets a miniscule profit relative to the annual budgets of university sports programs or campus police, as we have discussed previously. When considered, the conversation as to whether the university has the best interests of the student body in mind remains open, as millions of student-funded dollars are spent annually on policing and other non-vital campus initiatives.
Ultimately, the issue that makes the Book Bundle program subject to valid scrutiny is one of messaging. When UConn Vice Provost Michael Bradford spoke with The Daily Campus on the new fee, his justification for the program was rooted in ensuring that all students had access to course materials. There was no “common cause” appeal to students to help their peers access textbooks, nor a proper explanation of how the $285 amount was calculated and how it would be allocated. Furthermore, if the goal of the program is to save students money, a flat rate that often exceeds the total cost of textbooks in a semester creates a secondary financial problem to replace another — one that could also be solved through implementing free, online textbook libraries such as Rice University’s Openstax program. The vagueness of this program’s announcement and implementation, paired with the opt-out nature, spells a very problematic rollout that could see students losing a considerable amount of money for little benefit. The university has a responsibility to provide a more clear summary of this program’s details, justification and how to opt-out, if not switching to an opt-in mode altogether.