The Cost of Learning
For some, it never is an easy choice.
With fall semester winding down and spring semester about to begin, many students will begin shopping at local bookstores or online to purchase textbooks for their new courses.
But after they have collected all the books and course materials on their shopping lists and see the price, some students are becoming frustrated.
Is it really worth it? Is this book or these materials necessary to succeed in this course, or can I survive without it?
With the increasing cost of attending college and more students having to foot a growing bill, new data shows more students are ditching the textbook to save cash and that their financial stress might be affecting their academic performance.
To read or not to read?
The National Survey of Student Engagement, or NSSE, annually collects information from students at hundreds of four-year colleges to compile data on student engagement and personal development.
The survey asks college freshmen and seniors various questions about their study habits and classroom involvement.
This year’s survey found financial worries are a significant source of stress for undergraduates while in school.
Sixty percent of the students surveyed reported they often are worried about having enough spending money to cover day-to-day expenses.
Thirty-two percent of freshmen and 36 percent of seniors reported that financial concerns had interfered with their academic performance.
The survey also documented that about a third of seniors and approximately a quarter of freshmen did not purchase required academic materials because of the cost.
Nick Manchik, a no-preference sophomore, is one of the students who chooses not to buy books for some of his classes.
“Cost was a factor for sure,” Manchik said. “Everything here costs so much money. It makes the college experience less enjoyable.”
Manchik is one of the many students at MSU who has to pay for his education. He pays his own rent and will be paying his parents back for the cost of tuition.
Manchik currently has a job at MSU, but worked nonstop this summer to pay for his rent this year.
And, like many of his classmates, he is feeling financially stressed out, and this stress might be negatively affecting his grades.
“(Finances) make it more stressful choosing a major and classes because you’re worried about wasting your money,” Manchik said.
A ‘big public policy error’
Economics professor Charles Ballard isn’t surprised students aren’t buying books.
“There are many reasons why a student might not buy books,” Ballard said. “But I can certainly believe that the number who are not buying books because of financial reasons is higher than it used to be.”
Ballard said one of the main reasons more students are facing financial stress across the country is because state legislatures have been reducing public support for higher education.
He said Michigan’s reductions in state appropriations have been especially severe in the last 10 years, forcing universities, such as MSU, to increase tuition substantially.
MSU’s state funding increased for the 2012-13 fiscal year to approximately $299 million, compared to about $284 million allocated for the 2011-12 year. Although this was an increase in funding, it still was not enough to keep the institution from increasing tuition costs 3.5 percent for the 2012-13 year.
But Ballard said MSU has been working hard to increase financial aid for students struggling to pay for school.
Students can find financial aid through grants, scholarships or loans from government or private sources.
Still, Ballard said he sees the stress finances can cause on students’ academic performance firsthand in his Economics 201 course.
“My students, determined to avoid such a heavy debt load, were working at a job 35 to 40 hours a week,” Ballard said. “As a result, their finances weren’t so bad, but they found it difficult to find time to do their homework. In my view, high debt, not buying textbooks and working excessive hours are all symptoms of a big public policy error.”
Ballard added he has been trying to cut costs for students in his classroom, no longer requiring them to buy an online suite of tutorials.
“The company was trying to stick my students with a 35 percent cost increase, so I threw my arms up and said, ‘(I’ve) had it,’” he said. “I’m hoping it saved them at least $50 or so.”
Cutting costs, finding alternatives
Doug Estry, associate provost for undergraduate education, said a possible reason students are not buying textbooks and other class material is because they have access to it through alternative means.
Bookstores realize the cost of college is increasing, and Mike Wylie, assistant manager of Student Book Store, 421 E. Grand River Ave., said they are trying to help students still afford textbooks.
“Part of the answer is that renting books instead of buying them helps take the price down considerably,” Wylie said. “And we’ve always offered used textbooks.”
Wylie said although the sale of textbooks isn’t ceasing, he’s seeing more kids buying books only for their major courses, then renting books for nonmajor courses to help cut costs.
“What we are trying to do is ameliorate the situation for students by getting as many used textbooks as we can and trying to provide as many books for rent as we feasibly can,” he said.
Estry said although students might be financially stressed, there is no direct correlation that proves it negatively affects their academic performance. He suggested other factors, including time management, health-related issues and anything else that might distract them from their studies.
Advertising junior Jessica Cushing said she borrows books from her friends for most of her advertising courses, and her decision to do so has not substantially affected her grades.
“When a professor says, ‘This part of the lesson isn’t being lectured, it’s in the book,’ I usually have five or six people sitting around me (who) I can borrow the book from,” she said.
Cushing said many of her professors do not require her to buy textbooks for her courses, but even in the classes when textbooks are required, she still performs well academically.
“I do think if you have the book but are missing the notes, you can reference the book to help out,” Cushing said. “But I haven’t really run into that problem in any of my advertising classes.”