The fall semester has officially begun, and with that comes the frustration that students face when purchasing required class materials and textbooks. On average, students spend between $628 and $1,471 on school textbooks and other class materials each year, according to the Education Data Initiative.
As students struggle financially, universities across the country are debating if going textbook free is a smart solution to relieve some financial burden and improve accessibility. However, there are also concerns that switching to free online materials may compromise the quality of education students receive.
Opinion Editor Claire Zeffer, a junior journalism major, and Assistant Opinion Editor Valeria Uribe, a sophomore journalism major, argue for and against universities going textbook free.
Going textbook free is an easy solution to an expensive problem
Claire Zeffer, Opinion Editor
Most college students have been plagued by the high cost of course materials that increase the financial burden of attending college. Once tuition is paid, college students can expect their class syllabi to require the purchasing of expensive textbooks or online access codes.
Students often have no choice but to budget additional money for these materials that can only be used for a specific course during one semester. The average four-year college student budgets $1,240 for textbooks and supplies, according to an October 2022 report by The College Board.
Temple’s tuition varies based on the chosen school, college or program; the annual rate for in-state students begins at $17,136 and $30,864 for out-of-state students. The costs don’t stop there as most students pay additional money to cover housing, food and university fees.
Next fall, West Texas A&M University will no longer require students to purchase textbooks in an effort to reduce the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree. The school encourages faculty to prioritize free Open Educational Resources, which are virtual publicly available teaching materials. The school will also provide free printing for students who prefer physical copies.
Temple should also make the effort to go textbook free to keep up with the digital age, diversify learning and ease a massive financial burden for students.
As society moves closer to a fully digital academic culture, going textbook free is a way for the Temple community to take full advantage of online resources and technological innovations, rather than being constricted by a one-dimensional textbook.
Technology can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink accessibility gaps and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners, according to the Office of Educational Technology.
Professors can curate multimedia resources to accompany their course, which diversifies learning and limits the reliance on a single textbook. With the use of Open Educational Resources, class materials can stay up to date and be tailored to specific needs, which isn’t always possible with traditional textbooks.
Elizabeth Diamond, an education professor, recently limited textbook use in her courses to keep material up to date and ease the financial burden for students.
Instead, Diamond uses Open Education Resources she put together using the Textbook Affordability Project — a program that provides funds to faculty who replace expensive materials with Open Educational Resources — from the Charles Library.
“There’s so much material out there that’s current, that’s research based, that is accessible to professors and to students to use,” Diamond said. “I just don’t see the need for college textbooks.”
The university would also help ease the financial burden of textbooks by utilizing free online resources. Twenty-five percent of students reported working extra hours to pay for books and other materials, and 11 percent skipped meals in order to afford books and course materials, according to the Education Data Initiative.
“It’s hard to be a student, and to spend that much on textbooks every semester, particularly when you’re not going to use them,” Diamond said. “The resale value is not high. And so there’s better ways you would be spending your money.”
Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hard-earned money to pay for class materials that won’t serve them long term. Most students pay thousands in tuition, and the additional cost of textbooks can cause stress and influence what courses students can afford to take.
Max Bash felt minor revisions to textbooks from year-to-year forced him to buy new materials rather than used, wasting his money, he said.
“The world could be saving all the paper that’s just being burnt on just new books,” said Bash, a freshman biology major. “I think it’s a very predatory and bad system. I would happily go textbook free.”
Going textbook free enhances the quality and relevance of course materials and also improves learning accessibility and alleviates financial stressors. Temple should embrace the digital age and ensure they are providing their students with an easily accessible and affordable educational experience.
Textbooks are pivotal to a good college education
Valeria Uribe, Assistant Opinion Editor
Textbooks and class materials have always been an important part of college students’ learning process. Although they might be expensive, they are not a surprise expense sprung upon students.
Paying For College is a website where students can see how much money they would need for a semester at Temple, and books and class materials are included on the list. The website also offers a calculator tool, which gives students an estimation of how much money they could spend on textbooks.
One out-of-state student spends approximately $1,494 on class materials. However, there are other costs that also burden students more than textbooks and colleges should be trying to reduce those expenses instead. Students spend $14,778 in room and board and $30,602 in tuition and fees, according to Temple’s tuition calculator.
Some professors are skeptical about going textbook free because it could limit their teaching resources to only open access materials, giving them more work to do extensive research and find them, the Texas Tribune reported.
Finding open access materials is not easy, and if professors can’t find a free resource for their classes they would have to create one themselves gathering information from different open access sources.
“I think it’s definitely going to require more time and effort from professors to track down those materials,” said Jason Travers, a special education and applied behavior analysis professor.
Open access materials are not part of a major database, which is why their credibility is questioned and some authors are skeptical about sharing their valuable materials in open access, according to Marshall University.
Although professors can download and save free content after they find it, it would not be a long term resource. Information is constantly being updated and if new data comes up in a field professors would be teaching with outdated class materials. Scanning a PDF or relying on saved free content could impact the quality of education and limit professors ability to teach.
“In some fields, the knowledge advances much more rapidly and content may change and new information may be available,” Travers said. “If the original author doesn’t regularly update their materials, then you quickly have obsolete information and they’ll need to find supplements which would require more time by the professor.”
New information in textbooks are guaranteed as the latest information will always be available in the book’s latest edition. However, it’s not promised that the author of an open access book is going to go back and edit. Even though they might be expensive, textbooks are reliable sources of information.
Taking a textbook free approach might cause more inconvenience and make the teaching process more complicated for professors because it would limit their resources, causing them to use open access material for all their lectures.
Textbooks keep accurate and relevant information in one place, making it easier for students to learn and professors to teach.
“There’s a convenience factor associated with textbooks where relevant content and information is organized in a coherent way conducive to teaching the content to students who may or may not have any fundamental knowledge about the topics being examined,” Travers said.
There are a lot of expenses college students face. However, textbooks are not their biggest expense and getting rid of them could compromise the quality of education they receive.