April 12, 2024

Going to college is expensive. Tuition is unfortunately usually only the beginning of the fees. Next comes housing, food and travel (gasoline or bus fares). Then comes supplies. Costs continue to increase if a student needs a laptop, notebooks and, of course, textbooks. All of these items are necessary, and almost nothing is free.

The total average cost to attend school (combining tuition, housing and food only) per year is $35,551 in the U.S., according to educationdata.org. To break this number down, the average cost per college course is $2,355. Let’s assume you are a student who decides to take four courses each semester. That results in $18,840 for a year of courses, so about 53% of the money you will be spending all year will go toward course tuition alone.

Let’s skip ahead. You worked out all the logistics. You got the loans you needed, and you worked the extra hours you needed too, and now you can finish paying off the big stuff. Board? Check. Meal plan? Check. Tuition? Check. You are getting excited. Everything is set, right?

But then you get the email notification. You scroll and you widen your eyes in horror when the title reminds you of something you forgot. The title of the email reads, “TEXTBOOKS NOW AVAILABLE.”

You think to yourself, “Maybe there won’t be any required textbooks this year. Maybe I’ll be able to find a PDF copy. Maybe I’ll find it in the library.” You tell yourself anything to convince yourself you are done spending money.

But this is not the case. You see the first required textbook: $120. Luckily, the next class does not require a textbook, but wait — an access code is required: another $97. After adding up the required textbooks, the cart comes out to $374.

Let’s say it’s the worst case scenario: none are available as PDF copies, and the library is out of stock. This $374 will have to come out of your pocket, and according to educationdata.org, this is about the average students do end up having to spend. A study from educationdata.org showed that students spend, on average, between $628 and $1,471 a year on textbooks. 

So you have to buy the textbooks yourself, but the issue is, you just spent all your money. More importantly, half of that money went to the courses for which you will not be able to afford the textbooks. And if you cannot afford the textbooks, you cannot participate in the classes. You spent all of that money on your education, and now you are still stuck.

A scenario similar to the one described above is common for students attending college. Loans often cover course tuition, housing and just enough for food, but rarely are textbook costs discussed until days before classes begin. This leaves students scrambling to come up with hundreds of dollars to even participate in the classes that they have  paid to attend.

Is this fair? In my opinion, no.

Class tuition should cover all course-related costs, including textbooks. If the class is a lab, lab equipment should be included. It should not be assumed that just because a student has enrolled in a class, they have the finances to pay for another $500 in equipment once the class begins.

It should be the responsibility of the school to assess equipment costs and make sure these costs are covered in the course tuition. If this means that the course costs must increase, at least the students will be aware of the true price of the class with all expenses included. With this knowledge, students can figure out ways to finance the class beforehand. 

Also, it prevents students who cannot afford the textbooks from spending their money on courses and then not being able to participate or learn as much as others do.

Every student should have equal opportunity to learn but also to know costs up front, and this will help ensure that.

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