Our inexorable march to poverty and struggle is lunch conversation fodder; as students, we’re all too familiar with financial juggling and the ubiquitous daily gouging associated with college. “Affording” college is a myth of yesteryear wrapped up in “bootstraps” language meant to deride the ever-so-lazy younger generations. Everything is more expensive now—average tuition at a four-year public institution has seen a three-fold increase over the past 30 years.
Cost-of-living is more—everything is more, higher and less accessible—it’s depressing. Financial barriers pop up from every angle for students on the degree track, but there’s one last barrier that always creeps up and snaps up the last little bit of money in Bobcats’ accounts: textbooks. Textbooks are expensive, they’re often unnecessary and the for-profit tangled mess of an industry is wholly immoral. Textbooks should be a part of the tuition package or free; nothing else will do.
The National Association of College Stores (NACS) is the professional trade association of the $10 billion campus store industry. You read that correctly: ten billion dollars. The National Football League, a veritable money-printing machine, distributed $8 billion total in 2017 amongst its 32 teams. According to NACS, average textbook prices increased over 50 percent from 2007 to 2017. Textbook prices have increased over 1,000 percent over the past 40 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
All of these numbers are horrifying and intimidating, but they belie the true emotion associated with forking over all the cash in your account—or going deeper into debt—just to be able to read along with a class that you’ve already purchased a seat in. You’re required in many courses to purchase the textbook and there’s hardly a way around that. Students are paying a second entry fee.
‘Welcome to the amusement park, we’re so glad to have you here, and that’ll be $90 for an all-day pass. But wait, you’re going to also throw us another ten before you ever set foot on the rollercoaster, sorry!’
Any college willing to discard the for-profit model of the textbook industry and sever financially predatory relationships with large corporations looking to wring dry every dollar possible from students would immediately reap beaucoup rewards. The exorbitant cost of textbooks disincentivizes learning, sometimes outright preventing students from participation in essential class exercises.
Making sure everyone receives the material without charge would immediately foster a better classroom environment and wipe a common student stressor right off the map for good. More engaged students make for a healthier and more diverse learning experience. Attendance would surely see a positive spike, test scores may increase and genuine enjoyment may be had by another student that may have previously been underwater.
The student loan debt crisis is still raging in America; over 44 million people carry some student loan debt and we’re busting through a trillion and a half dollars in total debt. Almost $40,000 a pop for graduates from 2017. We’re the Titanic heading straight for the iceberg, but we’re fully aware and still willing to ram right through it because it’s essentially the only chance to find success on the other side. There is no satisfactory justification for the continued destruction of student bank accounts when we’re all merely trying to stay on course.
It’s like when we were all kids at the store picking out a toy. The packaging had in big letters “BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED.” Well, just like that little remote-controlled car and its batteries, books aren’t included with classes. But they should be.
– Zachary Keel is a sociology graduate