A Much Needed Intervention for the Precharged Textbooks

Maggie Cavanaugh

Precharging students for textbooks will cost the students more money, create hassles for all parties involved and, ultimately, add another rock to the mountain of obstacles students encounter when trying to earn their degrees. 

The plan to precharge students for textbooks is not a very good idea. The intention to help curtail some of the costs of pursuing a college education is genuinely good, but the effects of charging every student a blanket $1,000 will be felt around campus in every aspect of student academic life. 

The plan is ill-thought through for the following reasons. First, most students do not spend the estimated $1,000 a year on textbooks. With free pdfs online, rentals and good old fashioned ingenuity, students are able to bring down the costs on their own. 

Second, precharging textbooks will create a bureaucratic nightmare for book scholarship students like student athletes, ROTC students and others. Students who were given a book stipend from a sponsoring agency will ultimately be the biggest losers in this decision.That stipend is far less than $1,000, meaning students could end up losing hundreds of dollars, because they are forced to pay the difference out of their own pockets. 

Textbook costs vary across the campus. STEM majors incur greater costs than most Business and Liberal Arts majors, but overall textbooks costs vary semester to semester. Every college student knows at least one person paying less than $50 for their textbooks and at least one paying around $700. The determining factors are the student’s major, academic year and just how lucky they get. 

And what happens to these textbooks at the end of the semester? If students have prepaid, can they still sell them back to the bookstore? How will the block fee change their resale value. On the other hand, some students pass down their gently used textbooks to a younger sibling, friend or teammate taking the same class the following semester. This saves everyone involved some hassle as the bookstore generally will not buy back the $5 used copy of Socrates’s Phaedo that has been annotated, dog eared and crushed at the bottom of someone’s backpack at a price that would justify the hassle of going through the buyback process. 

The intentions behind the University’s efforts to bring down the cost of a college education are laudable and well received. However, a better way to curtail textbook costs would be to create a textbook section in the library where students could borrow the needed textbook before returning it. The textbooks could be classified like books in the resource section, unable to be checked out to ensure they’re almost always available for students.  For further study, students could make photocopies of the needed pages. 

There are many areas of pursuing a college education that are expensive. Meal plans, boarding costs and transportation costs quickly add up.  If colleges and universities really want to address the rising cost of higher education, they need to address these in addition to the price of textbooks.