College students and their families are responsible paying exorbitant costs like food, housing and textbooks every semester when students return to classes.
At my previous college, Lehigh Carbon Community College, I spent more than $500 per semester on textbooks required for my classes, which was often a waste because the books weren’t heavily used. There have been instances where I didn’t purchase textbooks due to the fear of wasting money, and I instead relied on notes and powerpoints.
In 2021, full-time undergraduate students at four-year universities spent about $1,240 each on books and supplies, according to EducationData.org, an online organization that collects data about the United States education system.
There is no reason why students should be paying such large sums of money on textbooks that will only be used for one semester, especially when the price of being a student has skyrocketed over the past decade. To ease the financial pressure on students, professors should look for cheaper options when creating their syllabi because there are many alternatives to buying hardcopies of textbooks.
Buying textbooks is an unnecessary financial burden for students, said Brendan McElroy, a sophomore political science major.
“They are way too expensive,” McElroy said. ”It is unfair for a university to expect all students from all economic backgrounds to pay for textbooks. Some people are crippled because of tuition and debt.”
The average price of books and supplies for Temple students has increased in recent years, jumping from $800 during the 2002-03 academic year to $1,510 during the 2020-21 academic year, the most recent year for which the university’s Common Data Sets provided data.
This increase may seem slight, but is one way the price of being a college student has risen over the past few decades. Temple implemented a 2.5-percent tuition increase for the 2021-22 academic year, meaning tuition has more than doubled from what it was during the 2002-03 academic year, according to the university’s Common Data Sets.
The amount of money students spend on course materials like textbooks has outpaced the rate of inflation since the 1970s, primarily due to a lack of competition within the higher education publishing industry and because students have no say over the materials assigned to them, Vox reported. With tuition prices already soaring, textbook prices are reaching astronomical levels with no signs of declining.
Textbook prices also tend to vary based on their subject, with books on STEM-related subjects like chemistry and calculus often costing more than books on humanities-related subjects like art history, Vox reported. This can especially impact STEM students at Temple because schools like the College of Engineering and the College of Science and Technology have higher tuition rates than many of their humanities counterparts, according to Temple’s tuition schedule for the 2021-22 academic year.
Natalie Flynn, an earth and environmental sciences professor, constructed her own in-class survey and learned half of her students had not purchased the course’s textbook.
The survey was anonymous, and asked if students had bought the book and had access to it, Flynn said.
“Just this totally random, non-student specific information, and I found that I did this over three semesters and about 50 percent of the kids didn’t have access to the book,” Flynn said.
When possible, 66 percent of students will avoid purchasing textbooks because of steep prices, according to EducationData.org.
Steven Bell, an associate librarian at Temple, believes universities should find ways to help students afford textbooks, he said.
“We should be looking as an institution, we should be looking at every single way we can help students save money on their education,” Bell said.
Bell is the creator of Temple’s Textbook Affordability Project, which encourages staff to replace their textbooks with zero-cost learning materials for students. Flynn has worked closely with Bell to use the Textbook Affordability Project to find more affordable resources to use in her classes, and has inspired other faculty in her department to do the same.
“They don’t know how easy it actually is, and they don’t have to do most of it, the library does,” Flynn said.
With the amount of resources available at Temple and its libraries, there’s no reason why faculty shouldn’t look into these programs and consider making the switch to free and easily accessible textbooks.
This project is not the only solution. North Broad Press provides the Temple community with access to scholarly works published by members of the university. Other resources for faculty who are considering switching to zero-cost materials include OpenStax and The Open Textbook Library, two initiatives that have created databases of open-license textbooks.
As a student, all I ask is for faculty to educate themselves on the benefits of open textbooks and to consider the hardships they may be causing their students.
“They can’t control tuition, they can’t control housing, they can’t control the cost of food, but they can control the cost of the learning materials,” Bell said.