UT can ease the burden of textbook costs

Abigail Tovar

The beginning of the semester is a strenuous time for many of us. We’re adapting to a new environment, juggling 9 a.m. classes and setting new goals to push ourselves. Textbooks add to that stress, presenting an unexpected, demanding cost for many students. UT should aim to lighten students’ financial load as much as possible each semester by providing them with flexible, cheap options for textbooks.

The UT Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid explicitly references a fee for “Books and Supplies” under their estimated Cost of Attendance page. For the 2019-2020 academic year, this cost was estimated to be around $700 for a full-time undergraduate student. After paying for tuition and housing, many students struggle to pay the sometimes-unexpected costs that textbooks can present.

"Textbooks can be tricky," theater sophomore Jadzia Padilla said. “My emergency funds are often used to help pay, and within the first semester, the savings I had from working for two years before college were depleted fast from all the extra expenses like textbooks.”

Although it’s not ideal, students buy older versions of textbooks or turn to risky websites to find free — and often illegal — PDFs. Old textbooks often don’t contain the relevant homework or content required for the current class. Courses that require students to purchase online subscriptions through services such as Cengage or McGraw-Hill may cut traditional textbook costs, but once their access codes expire they are unable to be reused. 

As a result of expensive textbooks, students will actively avoid courses with expensive books when creating their schedules, even if they are necessary. In fact, one recent survey done in Florida found that because of rising textbook costs, as many as 45.5% of students will not register for a course and around 20% will withdraw from the course all together.

"For students like me, the money could literally be the difference between textbooks or getting food and going to school or dropping out,” Padilla said.

 Textbook prices when compared to their return value prove that pricey textbooks are not a worthwhile investment for students. While students can resell their textbooks, finding buyers willing to take older editions of textbooks in a market of yearly releases is challenging. Therefore, many students opt to selling their books to bookstores, where the buyback offers for mint condition textbooks can be mere pennies on the dollar. 

To offset the costs of textbooks, UT could use more open education resources such as Openstax, a textbook publishing initiative based at Rice University. These resources are free to use and can be accessed anywhere. The UT Department of Chemistry offers free resources for their CH 301 and CH 302 students on Openstax, such as a downloadable chemistry textbook, and information on the fundamentals of chemistry on the GChem website. However, students still need to buy an expensive course packet for the introductory chemistry courses.

Clay Spinuzzi, professor and associate chair of rhetoric and writing, said that he tries to balance affordability with the best text for the class. This year, for RHE 306, he decided to replace the 306 handbook with the Purdue OWL, a well-respected free and open resource for writing.

“At the department level, we don't have a mechanism for (developing open education resources),” Spinuzzi said. “If we could have suitable resources of high quality, we would strongly consider them.”

Since open education resources can require a substantial amount of effort to develop, the University should dedicate more resources toward ensuring every department has the opportunity to develop them. 

UT can mitigate the stress students feel — especially for those who experience financial hardships. Open education resources and cheaper textbooks will ensure quality education for all students.

Tovar is an undeclared sophomore from Houston.