| 03.18.2018

Textbook terrors


High cost textbooks place financial burden on college students

Attending college requires students to become masters of their budgets. The tools in the average students’ arsenal include an affinity for Ramen, living in an off-campus apartment instead of in a dorm with friends and searching for free food rather than wasting pre-purchased meals. But when it comes to purchasing textbooks, there is little students can do to save money.

Amanda Vu

Amanda Vu

The University of Idaho estimates the cost of textbook and classroom supplies to be around $1,200 per semester. With the advised workload of five to six classes each semester to graduate within four years, a simple math calculation results in an average of $200 that students have to spend on textbooks for one class.

There are not many viable solutions to avoiding textbook costs.  Buying used textbooks, most of the time, cuts down the cost estimate by more than half. However, when the newest edition of the textbook is required, this plan does not work.

Technology can’t even save a college student’s wallet. EBooks are limited only to textbooks with electronic versions available and to students with compatible electronic devices.

Splitting the cost and access of a textbook with a friend only leads to disputes if anything happens to the book. Without any other option, college students are forced into using more financial aid than should be necessary on textbooks.

Since most people promote the belief that college education is an investment in one’s future, it seems logical that textbooks should be part of that investment. It is useful to own a textbook, so students can use it as a reference to review materials when they are in upper-division courses.

However, classes to fulfill the general education requirements often provide no necessary knowledge for a student’s chosen major and intended career. As a chemical engineering student, I cannot see the future benefits of owning a Native American history textbook in a career in the industrial workforce.

To avoid the considerable cost of textbooks, many students seek riskier alternative solutions. One possibility is to refuse buying the required materials, and do without an integral part of the course. Another solution is to enroll in a different course, if the degree permits this option.

And don’t think people aren’t taking these risks. Last fall, the United States Public Interest Research Group conducted a survey of more than 2,000 students from over 150 campuses across the country. Of these students, 65 percent admitted they refused to purchase a textbook due to the high cost. Among them, 94 percent expressed a concern that doing so would penalize their grade in the course.

The same survey also found 48 percent of the surveyed students said the cost of textbooks altered their class selection. This is problematic because costs prevent students from taking classes that appeal to their interests. Sitting in a dreaded class just to save some money on textbooks makes college appear to be all about pinching pennies, rather than exploring one’s potential to learn and grow.

Many argue that students always have the option of working a part-time job or taking out loans to compensate for the textbook expenses. As a full-time student who wants to be involved in numerous campus organizations, it is impossible for me — and many other students — to fit 20 hours of work into my weekly schedule. With only the pay from eight hours of work per week, and expenses including fuel and food, buying textbooks gives me and all other college students more monetary problems to worry about.

Regarding loans, most students have already chosen to give up on their expensive dream school to avoid loans. They probably did not want to graduate from a state school with a burden of paying off loans and the resulting interest.

Solving this problem can be simple but requires cooperation from UI. The VandalStore should expand the option of renting textbooks for the semester. The library should carry textbooks available for upperclassmen to check out for long periods of time, if they need to review old materials.

Textbooks do not have to be the bane of college students’ existence. With a little help from UI, costs for college students can greatly decrease.

Amanda Vu can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu 

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