Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

Administrators and faculty should embrace open-source textbooks

The second semester is well underway, bringing with it the semesterly ritual of buying exorbitantly priced textbooks. The national average price for course materials is $153 per course, which can mean students may be forced to pay in the area of $1,000 a semester just to obtain the reading materials they need. This puts a further financial strain on students and their families for a higher education institution that is already expensive enough.

GW and other institutions must turn to more affordable and accessible textbook options rather than letting a few textbook publishers place further financial burdens on students. They should use open educational resources, which are educational sites and materials that are free, accessible online and available for use and sharing.

The responsibility to switch to cheaper and online textbooks falls on both administrators and professors. Administrators should publicize open-source options and encourage faculty to use them in their classes.

The root of the issue lies with textbook publishers who can get away with charging ungodly prices for their works. A 2016 Public Interest Research Group report found that four textbook publishing corporations own more than 80 percent of the textbook industry. Textbooks are usually required course materials for students, so textbook publishers can raise prices and students will still be coerced into buying them. After all, as one NBC article pointed out, there is no “textbook insurance” to help students afford expensive course materials. In addition, textbook choices and prices are usually very limited. Bound by their professor’s syllabus, students don’t typically have access to alternative prices or options. This allows textbook publishers to monopolize the industry, for which students must pay the price.

The results within the publishing industry are self-evident. College textbook prices have risen by more than 1,000 percent since 1977, which more than triples the rate of inflation. The skyrocketing prices have a very real and tangible impact on students who are paying enough for college as it is.

As I mentioned in a previous column, GW’s annual tuition amounts to almost $60,000, which prompts many GW families to take out education loans. These loans can haunt students and their families for a lifetime, which is counter to the belief that everyone should have the right to an accessible and affordable education. Students may spend more than $1,400 on textbooks and other supplies each semester, which is not included in our tuition. Paying for textbooks is not nearly as expensive as the price of tuition, but it is still thoughtless and unreasonable for GW and other universities to expect their students to pay for something as simple yet essential as textbooks.

A 2018 survey by Morning Consult, a polling and data company, found that 85 percent of current and former college students considered spending on course materials like textbooks to be one of their highest financial stressors. This was only surpassed by college tuition itself. Disturbingly, 43 percent of those surveyed skipped meals to afford paying for course materials. In addition, Black students are 35 percent more likely than other respondents to skip a trip home to afford paying.

This survey clearly demonstrates that the price of textbooks and other course materials places a financial burden on students. Many students must sacrifice, often to a great extent, just to afford the course materials they are expected to purchase.

In addition to diagnosing the problem, this survey can also help highlight some solutions. More than 80 percent of respondents said that accessible online course materials would benefit them.

The educational landscape is more heavily using the internet, a trend that the pandemic has only accelerated. Colleges in general and GW in particular must get with the times and leave expensive textbooks pumped out by publishers and required by professors in the past.

One important example of an open educational resource that GW should use more are copyright-free open access textbooks through the internet. But according to a CBS article, only 6 percent of higher educational institutions use this resource. Administrators and professors at GW can lead on this issue and mandate or publicize the use of online or open-source textbooks to the benefit of both students and educators.

One example of affordable course material from my own experience is my General Psychology textbook from the website OpenStax, which is a nonprofit provider of open-source learning materials. This book was online and free to access. Considering that OpenStax had free online textbooks for 35 introductory college courses as of September 2020, I am honestly surprised that none of my other courses have used this site or similar ones. Professors must switch from costly textbooks to free online textbook sites like OpenStax. This would make class content more readily available for students.

The Student Association voted to initiate an online textbook exchange program called the Hippo Community Library in September of last year. Although this is a step in the right direction, it does not resolve this issue and make textbooks more affordable throughout campus. Professors ultimately bear the responsibility to assign affordable textbooks, and administrators must enforce it to establish widespread access to cost-effective textbook options.

To have students pay for expensive textbooks is to put an unnecessary financial strain on students paying enough as it is. Many families, at GW or elsewhere, are already struggling to pay the price of tuition. Administrators and professors must take simple but crucial steps to make textbooks more affordable.

Evan Wolf, a freshman majoring in political communication, is an opinions writer.

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet