Textbooks in need of reform, college students frustrated
Every semester it’s the same scenario: students glance back and forth between their fee bill and their list of pricey required textbooks.
Tuition, student fees, parking permits — the costs already add up without tossing textbooks into the mix. In addition to cost, students also wonder how closely their professors will follow the textbook, or whether it’s needed at all.
One of the largest concerns about college textbooks is the cost, which has risen at an alarming rate.
According to a study done by the Government Accountability Office, the cost of textbooks has risen 82 percent from 2002 to 2013. With costs only going up, more students may decide to forgo buying textbooks altogether.
Biochemistry freshman Ana Villagran said she believes textbooks are a waste of money and not worth the effort to buy.
The United States Public Interest Research Group surveyed more than 2,000 students from over 150 college campuses across the nation and found that textbook costs can dissuade students from purchasing books at all and affect which classes they choose.
The PIRG report concluded that 65 percent of students would decide against buying a book that was too expensive, 48 percent of students said that textbook cost impacted their course selection and 94 percent of students who chose not to purchase textbooks feared that it would hurt their grade in the course.
Creative writing senior Aylia Naqvi said she thinks prices are too high and will usually wait until class officially starts before deciding whether or not to purchase her textbooks.
“I always go to a professor’s class first and see if they even recommend me getting a book,” Naqvi said. “I weigh the pros and cons of getting a textbook, and cost is high up there on the cons list.”
Students are typically able to resell their textbooks back to bookstores or to other students; however, this has become more difficult when textbooks must be used with online access codes. These codes expire so they can only be used once, and books lose a lot of their value once there is no code, as students new to the course will still need to obtain one. This makes it harder to resell books and for students to find used books.
In core or introductory classes in particular, such as history and political science, these access codes can only be used for that semester and eventually expire; therefore, a student trying to buy a used text will not be able to get one with an access code.
If more publishers are moving toward creating an online component, the access codes should not expire. Having extended access online can benefit students as they may be able to access the text online, take quizzes to review chapters they have read or use any of the other features to engage with the material. Having this kind of access should not come at the expense of losing a chance to resell books.
Another reason students may choose to save money and not purchase a textbook is because when they buy a textbook, they either do not use it or it is not their go-to source for studying material for class.
“I usually don’t rely on the textbook,” Naqvi said. “I read it for the first couple of weeks, and then it’s at the bottom of my backpack and I don’t look at it again. If I don’t understand something, I just Google it rather than flip through the pages of my textbook.”
Though cost is the largest concern and the most widely chronicled, if students are willing not to purchase a textbook or not use one even if they have it, there must be an issue with the actual content.
The Texas State Board of Education is currently under fire for its proposed changes to social studies textbooks containing biases against marginalized groups. While college textbooks are not under strict discretion from the State Board such as the books used in grades K-12, the textbooks used in college campuses are also in need of change.
For example, textbooks are just too lengthy and cover a wide range of information. Though one could argue that this is to help students survey a large amount of information, it is not as conducive to learning as focusing deeply on key concepts and ideas.
“I feel like even the professors going into the classes say that it’s a survey course so the books jump around trying to cover everything,” Naqvi said.
“I learn better when it’s more focused rather than trying to cover too many things.”
Villagran said that she thinks professors need to be more selective about the textbooks they choose for their course.
“I think content-wise, either the professor should look more into what they’re using and use textbooks that would fit the way they teach and not just the overall idea,” Villagran said.
Textbooks may not be the only resource students have, but if required, they should be reasonably priced and should offer insight on topics discussed in class.
Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]