Textbooks should not be a factor that holds students back
After robbing your bank account to pay tuition, high textbook costs add insult to injury. However, solutions to the staggering cost of college textbooks are close to home.
No one struggles alone. The College Board estimates an average college student spends over $1,000 on textbooks every year. In a report published by Student Public Interest Research Groups, more than half of students say they did not buy a required textbook because it is too expensive and over 90 percent of students who go without are concerned it will impact their grades.
While students find the price stickers of textbooks enraging, most instructors find them repulsive as well. Each of my instructors this semester say they understand the costs of textbooks are a burden. Therefore, they allow older editions, suggest students find a used copy online for less or make the book optional.
The campus bookstore isn’t the villain, it’s the middle man. Instructors choose textbooks and the bookstore conveniently sells the chosen ones on campus. Textbook prices are set by publishers and the markup profit the bookstore receives is set by a contract with UH.
Felix Robinson is the store manager at the Student Center B&N College Bookstore.
“Affordability is always a concern for us, that’s why we have so many different options for our students,” Robinson says. The bookstore price-matches online and local competitors while also offering rental, digital, used and loose-leaf books.
For change to happen in the college textbook market, the change must be deeper than the distributor level. Whether you buy a required textbook at the campus bookstore, Textbook Brokers down the street, or online at Amazon, you are still forced to support a multi-billion dollar textbook-publishing industry racket that holds your grades and education hostage for a profit. Thao Nguyen is a junior transfer student at UH studying environmental science. While attending Houston Community College, she was part of a student group that pushed for affordable textbook solutions. At first, they collected used textbooks for a lending library. It was a free alternative to renting textbooks for the semester.
“No matter how hard we worked on the textbook drive, it wasn’t enough,” Nguyen says. Often the books would be the wrong edition, would be lacking the needed online access code, or there wouldn’t be enough books to go around. They were operating as another distributor and the change wasn’t going far enough.
That’s when Nguyen and her team discovered open educational resources like those offered by OpenStax, a nonprofit based at our neighboring Rice University. OpenStax offers peer-reviewed textbooks for free online, and print copies of their textbooks are available for $25-50. OpenStax also offers affordable solutions for online courseware. The books are free because OpenStax is funded by philanthropic organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Students and faculty have a better choice than older textbooks or no textbook,” Nguyen says. Nguyen and her team addressed the HCC Faculty Senate and worked with the instructional committee to persuade faculty to use free, open textbooks like those offered by OpenStax. Due to her team’s efforts, HCC is launching a program called the Z Degree where students can earn an associate’s degree without paying for a single textbook.
What course materials an instructor chooses to use in their classroom is a matter of academic freedom. No one can tell instructors what book to use—not any UH administrator and not any textbook publisher representative who works so hard to woo college instructors.
I ask that all UH faculty members commit to learning more about free or open educational resources like those offered by OpenStax and that they seriously consider using these affordable options in their classrooms.
UH Student Government President Winni Zhang made improving textbook prices part of her Spirit Red campaign platform. I also ask that Zhang and other student leaders make it a priority to increase awareness among faculty of open educational resources.
Textbook prices should not get between students and their education. For knowledge to be obtainable, it must be accessible.
Opinion columnist Alyssa Foley is a public relations junior and can be reached at [email protected]