Despite the growing popularity of eBooks and discounted textbook platforms, the cost of textbooks has risen by 1000% since the 1970s. The College Board estimates that $1200 is set aside by each student for books and other course materials. Students coming from low, or even middle-income backgrounds are taking money from bills, grocery, or rent budgets just to purchase required texts and course packages. 65% of students have skipped buying required texts at some point during their college career because of a lack of affordability.
Experienced college students often wait until their first week of classes have passed before they purchase their books. Professors assign required texts to assist students with their assignments and projects. Students can find substitutional learning assistance through online research and persistence, rather than purchasing texts. Many students will explain that they have had at least one class where they purchased a “required” textbook and did not open it once. They are then hesitant to purchase books in the future due to the high prices and a fear of not “getting their money’s worth”.
A popular requirement for courses at the University of North Dakota, are textbooks that include access codes. Access codes are one-time use codes that allow students to acquire the homework materials, additional assignments, and extra learning attachments on a digital platform. The access lasts the length of the semester and cannot be accessed when the course is completed. A textbook without the access code, in most cases, is useless. The student would have the learning materials, but no way to access the course assignments.
Because these books with codes are preloaded with supplementary materials and assignments that are graded by the program, it saves underpaid instructors incredible amounts of time. They do not have to make assignments for their students, schedule course chapters, and only have to do a small portion of the grading. The time investment for professors requiring access codes is minuscule. In many cases, this is the most convenient instruction model for faculty.
At UND, as well as a number of other universities, full-time tenured staff are being replaced by graduate students. They are paid by course and asked to teach on shorter notice. Because they are working on their own courses during the summer, they don’t necessarily always have the time to develop complete lesson plans or create quality resources at a low cost for students.
Students proceed to purchase the necessary access codes, sometimes exceeding $150US to complete their course work. They are offered little instruction from their professors, self-teaching themselves through the online modules. They are also expected to pay the regular course tuition price on top of the access code price. Students are overpaying for a less satisfactory experience. Kaitlyn Vitez, a higher education campaign director explained, “you shouldn’t have to pay to do homework for a class you already paid tuition for. You shouldn’t have to pay to participate”.
Due to the one-time usage nature of access codes, students are prevented from sharing textbooks. Although sharing books isn’t extremely common, roommates both learning from home might not need two of the same textbooks in the house. The ridiculous prices make sharing materials enticing, but impossible when both students need the access code that accompanies the book. Textbooks with access codes are also worthless in the resale market. When students are done with their books, they often offer them at discounted prices to lower class students or hope that book “buy back” retailers will consider them. Similar reasoning applies to why these books are only offered to be purchased at retail price, rather than used or rental options.
The real challenge is getting professors to prepare their own course assignments and learning materials. Professors rarely want their students to financially suffer – they choose these options because they crave convenience.
Brooke Kruger is a Dakota Student Opinion Writer. She can be reached at [email protected]