During my undergraduate career I paid exactly $0 for required textbooks. I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship that covered the cost of materials for my courses. As a student-athlete, I did not encounter many issues that most college students face. For example, I never had to worry about not getting into a class because we had priority registration. Navigating the bookstore shelves was left to the bookstore employees who printed our schedules, found the required texts, boxed them up, and then handed them out to us at the start of the semester. I share these experiences not to boast but to explain how sheltered my undergraduate experience was.
Fast forward to the start of grad school four months later when I had to take out student loans, scour the internet for the cheapest way to buy or rent my required texts, and struggle with being unable to find a job to finance my education. No scholarships were available for us lowly master’s students, those were reserved for the doctoral students. If the stress of classes wasn’t enough, try adding on the stress of meeting your basic needs while not racking up insanely large amounts of debt. All of a sudden I realized just how expensive and stressful an education can be.
While many costs such as tuition and room & board are beyond the control of students and professors, one area where costs can be cut is textbooks. A 2012 study of roughly 18,500 students found that the cost of required textbooks caused students to frequently or occasionally:
- not register for a specific course (31.9%)
- withdraw from a course (9.8%)
- take fewer courses (34.7%)
- earn a poor grade because they could not afford to buy the textbook (18.2%)
*full table of data included below
In an attempt to reduce their costs, some students opted to forego purchasing the required text at all. This can lead to compromised performance in the course. Others dropped or withdrew from a course due to the high cost of the textbook (as illustrated by Gob Bluth below).
For students who may have purchased textbooks using money from student loans, my fear is that many do not understand the principle of interest. Student loan money is not free money; it comes with a price that compounds faster than most students may realize. That $150 textbook can end up being closer to $180-$190 after paying interest. This raises the cost of an education in a way that is harder to factor in when weighing options.
This week we discussed cost as a barrier to education. I think this barrier can be seen in three ways: never starting to pursue an education, dropping out prematurely, or putting in the time and effort yet being so worried about the financial toll it has on you now and in the future that you cannot take full advantage of the education you are working so hard to obtain.
2012 Florida Student Textbook Survey, Florida Virtual Campus
Covering the Cost: Why We Can No Longer Afford to Ignore High Textbook Prices, Senack and Donoghue
Full table from 2012 Florida study