At the beginning of each semester, students find themselves emptying out their wallets for a necessary but often excessive expense — textbooks. In Emory’s estimated cost of attendance for the 2019-20 academic year, $1,244 is allocated for books alone, comprising about a third of the estimated out-of-pocket expenses for the year. With this high financial burden in mind, Emory and its professors should work to reduce their reliance on costly textbooks and provide more resources to students struggling to purchase them.
College sticker prices have skyrocketed over the past several decades, and book prices have followed at a similar rate. According to a Bureau of Labor and Statistics Report, the average cost of textbooks increased 88 percent between 2006 and 2016, rapidly outpacing inflation. Online access codes for digital components of books have compounded the problem, as they add additional costs and are impossible to re-sell.
While it’s not entirely Emory’s fault that students must purchase expensive textbooks due to high publisher costs, administrators and professors can take steps to reduce this financial burden on students. For instance, Rice University (Texas) has launched a program called OpenStax that connects more than two million students to free books each year. The initiative saved students at the University of Georgia just under $4 million in the 2017-18 school year. Emory administrators should look into adopting the platform for the University, and faculty should consider using OpenStax textbooks to mitigate the rising costs of higher education.
Emory can start alleviating these costs by eliminating its mandatory $45 Health 100 books. Since the entire textbook is fewer than 80 pages long, freshmen are paying more than $1.50 per page for something that provides students with little new information that will just be repeated in class through lectures. The information in the Health 100 textbook could easily be relayed to students online via Canvas. It is irresponsible for the University to require freshmen to needlessly pay for this book when alternatives could be made readily available.
Professors can also do more to support their students by better communicating textbook costs and providing alternative sources to more cheaply purchase them. One class that serves as a model for successfully eliminating book costs is QTM 100, which uses an online, open-access book, like those available through OpenStax. Additionally, if professors only rely on certain sections of a given textbook, they should scan those pages in compliance with copyright laws to prevent further unnecessary costs to their students.
For low-income students, a mere reduction in costs may not be enough to ease the textbook burden. Emory should consider reimbursing the cost of books for all Pell Grant recipients each semester, as this would help ensure that those with the greatest financial need are not forced to drop classes or pirate materials just to keep up with their peers.
Reducing textbook costs would reinforce Emory’s reputation as a university known for its generous financial aid. Mitigating the supplemental costs of higher education, such as textbook prices, should be Emory’s priority. Students should be worrying about the content of their readings, not whether they can afford the privilege of reading them.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju and Kimia Tabatabaei.