Thursday, May 19, 2022

How college students can combat the pricey foe of textbook affordability

January 25, 2022
<p>Students looking for textbooks at the Student Book Store in East Lansing on Jan. 12, 2022.</p>

Students looking for textbooks at the Student Book Store in East Lansing on Jan. 12, 2022.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

With a new semester comes new classes, new classmates, new professors and the inevitable, frustrating expense of new books.

The average college student pays around $67.61 on materials per course. If they are enrolled in the average five courses per semester, that adds to about $676 in total each term, Amber Straatman, the regional manager of sales and operations at Follet, the provider of education technology, services and print and digital content for the Spartan Bookstore, or SBS, said. 

MSU students from Michigan pay around $25,000 for tuition and room and board, while out-of-state students pay around double the price, according to MSU’s financial aid website. 

Those costs — on top of paying for day-to-day necessities while the average price spent on books is around $1,352 a year — can be very concerning for students and their budgets. Not to mention the materials they buy for their courses might not even be used for more than a month, as was the case for journalism junior Lily Cross. 

“I have a stack of textbooks that we used for possibly two lessons and we never opened them up ever again after,” Cross said. 

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New trends that have risen over recent years are the shifts to purchasing limited-time e-books and rentals.

At first glance, these options may seem like a great alternative, considering the average limited-time e-books and rentals are usually cheaper. However, according to a fall 2019 national survey of 4,000 students across 83 institutions and a United States Public Interest Research Group report, access codes and other digital materials have shown little measurable improvement in key textbook affordability measures over the last six years.

Additonally, this national survey was administered before the COVID-19 pandemic, and many students’ financial situations could have drastically changed since then.

Students may also have trouble adhering to certain return policies. According to the MSU Bookstore return policy, sales are final two weeks after a textbook has been purchased. 

Students might not be able to comply with these policies due to unforeseen circumstances — a prominent example being the pandemic — resulting in additional funds they have to pay off.

Other material return policies vary, but the two-week return window for textbooks can cause problems that could add to the worries students may already have. 

Another recent trend has been students purchasing materials off Amazon, but when it comes to friendly neighborhood billionaire Jeff Bezos' company, their services can be hit or miss, many students said.

“I ordered a textbook off of Amazon that I was told I needed for the semester — it was already costly and I didn’t even use it,” kinesiology senior Elena Serafimovski said. “It stayed in the box and it came really damaged and I didn’t even touch it. When I returned it, it was sent back and they said I caused the damages when I didn’t and they charged an extra $50.”

What can students do? 

If you are a student that has been affected by the pandemic financially and are struggling to keep up with the cost of course materials in college, there is help available.

Theo Caldwell, an assistant dean in the College of Engineering, spearheads the College of Engineering Student Emergency Fund, which is a fund that was created during the  spring 2020 semester.

“We recognized that we were going to have a number of engineering students who were going to need some financial support based on the impact of the pandemic,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said during the beginning of the semester usually three-to-five students per day ask the fund for help. 

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According to the College of Engineering Student Emergency Fund’s website, over $38,000 has been raised and over 125 people have participated in donating. Those who want to support the fund can donate at the emergency fund’s website.

“We didn’t have a student that got the funding and then came back and said that it wasn't enough,” Caldwell said. “That was enough to bridge them and help meet the gap that they had.”

If students aren't in the College of Engineering and are in need of funding Caldwell said they should reach out to the assistant dean of their college. 

He also encouraged students to reach out to the Office of Financial Aid to see whether or not there is available funding left over. 

Another resource available to students is the Open Education Resources Program, or the OER, program. 

The third-year program is a part of MSU Libraries and is led by Open Educational Resources and Student Success Librarian Regina Gong.

According to the OER Program Website, some of the goals of the program are to reduce educational costs by providing free or low-cost learning materials that are available from day one of their class and customizable to fit their learning needs, and encourage and support the adoption, adaptation and creation of OER and other free and low-cost materials as textbook alternatives.

Examples of OER include open textbooks, images, course modules, videos, homework assignments, quizzes, lectures, lab and classroom activities, games, simulations and other resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.

Millions of dollars have been saved in OER's effort to support students.

“We have saved students since we started in the Fall 2019 semester around $4 million” Gong said. 

There's no end in sight for the outstanding course material price tags that students have to deal with, but there are still many ways to combat the issue at hand.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Open Educational Resources and Student Success Librarian Regina Gong's name.

This story appeared in our Jan. 25 print edition. Read the full issue here.



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