Extra costs in engineering classes must be alleviated

Ishan Shah

When I walked into my first class this semester, I was expecting to be handed a syllabus detailing relevant course information. Instead, I was greeted with a costly list of lab equipment and textbooks that were mandatory to complete my assignments. As I talked to my friends, I realized many of them were equally surprised by the number of extra items we were expected to buy.

While the prices of these items may not pose a problem for some engineering students, lower-income students on financial aid may be blindsided by these costs since there is little mention of them prior to the first day of class. 

The nature of these expenses begs the question: Why hasn’t UT made it clear to students that they may need to pay for extra materials when they sign up for a class? Maybe it’s because these costs frequently change, so it’s hard to provide students with an exact value before the class actually starts. But, at the very least, the UT Cockrell School of Engineering should give students an estimate of these expenses so the first day of class isn’t the first time they hear about these costs.

Clark Poon, an electrical and computer engineering sophomore, said he estimates spending an extra $100-150 on materials for his classes each semester.

“The main unavoidable costs I have noticed are for textbooks, including online ones … which are all required to complete homework assignments,” Poon said. 

This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Poon. For years, students have had to pay to access online homework and learning module services like Quest, which charges students $30 per class. Additionally, Poon said students often also have to pay for online access to books like McGraw-Hill Connect or zyBooks.

Apart from this, engineering students also have to buy lab equipment for some classes, such as a $100 circuit design kit for Introduction to Electrical Engineering and around $65 in parts for Introduction to Embedded Systems.

It is fairly difficult to get around these costs. Even though some students may be able to find online PDFs of their books, these could be different editions than those used in class. For lab equipment, students are encouraged to check out equipment, but Poon said this limits students to only work during lab hours.

For these reasons, the Cockrell School of Engineering should allocate funds for class materials to be distributed on a need-based system.

Michael Chuang, an electrical and computer engineering freshman, thinks adding need-based grants could potentially solve a major problem for lower-income students who may not have the resources to pay for these extra costs.

“That would be a good safety net to implement for those who cannot afford it because they do not have a choice,” Chuang said.

The University’s financial aid website claims that “UT Austin is committed to enrolling and graduating … high-potential students, regardless of income.” In order to remain true to their words, UT Engineering needs to help students shoulder these costs.

Due to the lack of transparency about these extraneous expenses and financial support to alleviate these costs, I believe UT Engineering is doing its students a disservice. Students shouldn’t have to struggle to access their course materials. UT Engineering already does a lot for its students academically, but by allocating funds appropriately for students in need, they could do even more.

Shah is an electrical and computer engineering freshman from Plano.