Textbook prices impose challenges for students: College looking for alternatives to increase affordability

Each semester, students are burdened with textbook costs that have been increasing in recent years. Photo by Irwin Frimpong ’21

Grace Wilgucki ’19, a biology major, estimates that she spends an average of $800 a semester on textbooks alone. Prices like these are not uncommon, and the college has starting looking into increasing affordability and accessibility.

Dean of Libraries Anne Houston and others in the administration recently decided to take on the issue of rising textbook prices and alternatives to traditional textbooks in order to provide equal opportunities for all students.

“We feel that the best way to level the playing field for all students is to make textbooks affordable to all, and the best way to do that is through the development and adoption of Open Educational Resources (OERs),” Houston said.

OERs are free online textbooks and other class materials developed by faculty and shared freely on the Internet. According to Houston, OERs require faculty to modify their syllabi, and it’s not always an easy transition, but she is hopeful to start this transition at Lafayette where applicable.

On Feb. 16, Houston, Research and Instruction Librarian Ben Jahre, representatives from the bookstore, ITS and the Provost’s Office met to discuss the best ways to implement OERs in classes at Lafayette.

This was a very preliminary meeting, but a brown bag talk has been set for March 2 featuring a faculty member from Temple University who will talk about the transition to OERs. The group hopes to then assemble a steering committee and hopefully launch an initiative at Lafayette in the fall of 2018.

Textbook prices have increased by 88 percent over the past 10 years, Houston said. Every semester, students make a hefty dent in their bank accounts in order to buy or rent textbooks and the online access codes that are often required.

Regardless of major, students are spending hundreds of dollars each semester on textbooks. Peri Chain ’18, a mechanical engineering major, said that she spends on average $600 a semester on her engineering textbooks. Kirsten Dahl ’19, an English major and government and law minor estimated she spends $350 to $500 a semester on books. Katie Hannigan ’18 said she spends around $200 a semester as a Policy Studies and Art History double major. Gillian Presto ’18, an Economics major said she spends between $300 and $400 a semester.

These costs are incurred even when students opt to rent textbooks through the bookstore or Amazon. Several also admitted to hoping to find PDFs of textbooks online to avoid costs all together.

There are several systems currently in place to help students at the college, as professors and faculty are aware that textbooks are often out of reach for students’ budgets.

Government and law and international affairs professor Hannah Stewart-Gambino said she tries to find the cheapest textbooks possible to include on her syllabi and always adds the IBSN number so that students can find the book elsewhere. The library recognizes the cost burden as well and purchases a copy of a textbook when requested by a faculty member to keep on reserve at the library, Houston said.

However, Houston realizes that this system can create its own problems. Students will often have to share the books on reserve at the library and work their schedule around when the textbook is available.

Dean of Advising and Co-Cirricular Programs Erica D’Agostino said professor Christian Tatu, Coordinator of the College Writing Program, began a lending library a few years ago where students who purchased a textbook can donate it so other students can borrow it when they take the same course.

Additionally, the college “has two student funds for extraordinary circumstances that require additional financial resource,” D’Agostino said. An application for textbook funding assistance is available for students on LafSync.

 

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