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Textbook Affordability: Questions Unanswered

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The Sunday before my classes began, I went online to see what textbooks I needed. Tea in one hand and DP Dough in the other, I begrudgingly prepared myself for the prices I was about to see. My scholarship pays for a pretty decent amount of books, however this time around I was short. I then began to think to myself: why am I paying for something that was just free a year ago? Some people don’t have scholarships, and are forced to take out extra loans just to cover the extra costs.

Doing a quick Google search, hoping to come up with an explanation, I found nothing. All the discussion took part in not why they were so expensive, but that they were so expensive. According to the U.S. PIRG, “Students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks—20 percent of tuition at an average university and half of tuition at a community college.”   No one seemed to want to ask the million dollar question; all I could find were blog sites and forums, which are unreliable.

At certain schools, however, there are Textbook Affordability programs in place. For example, The University of Cincinatti works with their library in order to offer students different options. These include renting, especially e-Books. According to their website, e-Books are “40-60% less expensive than textbooks, provide enhanced features, and don’t use paper”. They also provided a list of cons, stating that “some expire after a set time, some are not refundable, and files can be lost if not backed up”. This forces students to choose between paying high prices for a book that can be depended on constantly, and having a cheaper version which may not be able to be accessed at all times.

A friend of mine named Anna Smith is a fellow education major at my college, so I decided to ask her a few questions. She is a junior, and considering this is her sixth time purchasing textbooks for college courses, she was a perfect person to ask.

“I think that textbooks are outrageously priced” Anna told me in an e-mail. “I [also] think that a lot of textbook companies make new editions to make it seem like they have improved the quality of the text, but more often than not it seems that the chapters are just rearranged.” I asked her where she typically got her books, and she told me she purchases them on either Amazon or The Book Exchange, the latter being WVU’s cheaper option. Unfortunately, this inexpensive option doesn’t allow students to use their financial aid.

“I think that ALL students should have more financial support…Even students who are financially stable need help – I come from a pretty stable home and even after scholarships, the cost for tuition, books, and summer classes (which aren’t covered by scholarships) can still hurt the bank… That money could be used for something other than my education which I think everyone has an EQUAL right to.”

Doing some quick research, I found out that science and math related major/classes/schools in general have higher price tags. Looking online at an English 101 course in comparison to a Physics 101 course, the prices were astronomical in difference. One college physics loose-leaf book was $304.45, and another $190.80. Meanwhile, the books for an English 101 course were $31.30 and $31.45. 

As a lot of questions remained unanswered, I began to come up with a solution: student advocacy. When we truly think about it, students are the reason why a university is able to function. Without us, the customers, a for-profit school is in turmoil. The more we work with our Student Government Associations and Student Life centers, the more we are able to stop unfair charges to our accounts at the end of the semester. We are the answer to college affordability, as long as we act on our notions.

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Shan Cawley
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Shannon Cawley is an author and full-time student based in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her first chapbook, "depression is a thunderstorm and i am a scared dog" is set to be released by Maudlin House Press during the summer of 2017. In her free time, Shan works at her dorm's dining hall, involves herself in numerous extracurricular activities, and advocates for sexual assault victims as well as sufferers of mental illness.

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