School is expensive, textbooks shouldn’t be

A.J. Newth, Associate Opinion Editor

College isn’t cheap. For some students, financial aid can make or break their college decisions. For others, they’re comfortable enough to attend any school of their choosing. But one thing that most students can agree on from both ends of the financial spectrum is that textbooks are ridiculously expensive. 

I attended a public high school, so before college, I never needed to purchase expensive educational materials besides the occasional $20 vocabulary book or the latest trendy folders and binders. 

I was warned about the cost of textbooks in college, but I never imagined that the average textbook would cost between $80 and $150, according to the Education Data Initiative. Additionally, the site states that the average college student spends anywhere between $628 and $1,471 annually for textbooks alone in an academic year (consisting of two 15 to 17 week semesters).

This spring marks my fourth semester at Quinnipiac University excluding summer and January courses, and almost every class I have taken has required a textbook. As a freshman, I was naive to purchase those materials, only using them a handful of times during the semester. 

At first, I wondered who was more at fault, the professors for requiring a material that was then used minimally, or the bookstore, for charging expensive prices for products I wouldn’t touch. The solution became more clear the more I examined the dilemma: universities should provide required textbooks to students free of additional charge. 

The market value of the global digital educational publishing market is projected to reach $41.5 billion by 2031 per Allied Market Research. Not only is the growth exponential, but the industry is able to continue to profit by printing new editions of textbooks every few years or bundling the books with software add-ons like Cengage or McGraw Hill. When professors require these new versions, it eliminates the possibility of reselling old books or buying them from previous students, per U.S. News & World Report. 

Textbook companies definitely have the upper hand, but university administrations are the ones at fault. Even though purchasing textbooks is a method of furthering education, colleges use convenience as an advantage and upsell the already costly materials at the school bookstore in order to make a profit off their students. 

I understand that education is too valuable to put a price tag on. But at what point does the cost become unfair and unethical profit? I believe if universities really cared about their students, textbooks would be more accessible to all, financially struggling or not. 

Even with the prices of textbooks currently, some students will stop at nothing to acquire reading materials deemed necessary by their professors, even if it’s illegal. Some websites make it simple for students to obtain their textbooks for free. The only cost they pay is piracy. 

Approximately 22% of students in 2019 downloaded educational texts from a free website, including pirated versions, according to EdSurge. This statistic is more comforting than the whopping 65% of students who opted to not purchase a textbook because of the price and the 94% of students who were nervous that their decision to forgo that purchase would negatively impact their grade, according to a U.S. PIRG Education Fund survey. 

If students work hard enough to be accepted into a university only to have their education suffer because they cannot afford a textbook, what does that say about the education system? 

If students work hard enough to be accepted into a university only to have their education suffer because they cannot afford a textbook, what does that say about the education system?

— A.J. Newth, associate opinion editor

The average college tuition in America is around $103,000 for four years when you’re an in-state student and approximately $180,000 for the same duration when you’re an out-of-state student. Private institutions like Quinnipiac might even cost more, per Education Data Initiative. The average $1,500 per academic year may seem like a small price to pay for a high quality education and college experience, but if it is so little, why not have the university cover it? 

I do understand that in some cases students may receive scholarships for their textbooks. Quinnipiac considers textbooks an indirect cost when determining financial aid and scholarships for incoming freshmen, so depending on aid-determining factors like household income and expected family contribution, textbooks may be no cost at all for certain attendees, per Quinnipiac University’s Guide to Undergraduate Financial Aid. While I always support giving aid to students who need it, I think textbooks are a cost that the university should adopt for all students, regardless of their financial aid package. 

I am extremely grateful for my education and all the opportunities that come with attending college. However, I disagree that the expense for required educational materials should fall on the shoulders of students who already took out loans to sit in a classroom.

If textbooks are such a valuable asset to education, then universities should be happy to supply students with the resources they need to be successful.