On college campuses, buying textbooks for classes can be a painful experience. Each year, students log onto their respective MyU accounts and purchase the textbooks for their classes — sometimes that can cost several hundreds of dollars. In addition to the seemingly annual tuition increases, students have to worry about the exorbitant cost of buying books. They must pay close attention to the edition or version of the textbooks they purchase. Some professors require the editions to textbooks that are exclusive to the University of Minnesota. Some professors refuse to allow students to use former versions of the book in fear that it will have incorrect information. While there is some logic for requiring the most up-to-date book to the students in their class, this creates a legitimate and important disparity in the accessibility of the education provided at our University. According to the most recently available data, the average student nationally can spend up to $655 each year on textbooks.
To combat this problem, Sen. Al Franken and other colleagues in the Senate recently re-introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, aiming to improve access to free textbooks to reduce the cost of education. This is an important step forward, providing federal recognition to a problem that students have been facing for a long time. We believe that this bill should pass unabated in Congress to ensure that all college students, regardless of socioeconomic background, have the opportunity to succeed.
The solution to this problem lies not only with the federal government, but also the teachers at our University. The process that professors use to determine the correct textbook for a class is presently very opaque. While certainly some professors may be open to students’ requests to use former editions of books, there hasn’t been a systematic adjustment of policy at the University level.
Professors at the University should be required to select books that are not only available online, but more importantly, are inexpensive. It’s well documented that publishers make money by making previous editions obsolete forcing students to buy the most recent editions of books. For this reason, professors should be required to follow clear guidelines when making textbook requirements for their students. Given that previous editions to most textbooks are dramatically cheaper, professors could also provide readings and problem sets from multiple editions of books, which would provide a fair way for students that are from low-income backgrounds to not be disadvantaged due to something so fundamental as access to information.
Textbook accessibility is not trivial — it should be thoroughly integrated into the University policy. This would supplement national and statewide efforts to reduce cost of education dramatically. The objective of public education is not to fill the pockets of publishers, it’s to ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, have access an education foundational to their success in their future careers. Expensive books contributes to the cost of education which can become a barrier for many. Pushing this responsibility to the professors of the classes at our University will allow a quick fix without much bureaucratic maneuvering.