Editorial: Barriers of books

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A chemistry textbook is piled on top of two notebooks and a calculus textbook on one of the long wooden tables in Linderman. The stack of books serves as a barrier between two students as they study for exams next to each other. To prepare for what will be a large portion of their grades, the students complete problems from the textbook on the loose papers that litter the table.

For as small as the barrier is, it came at a lofty price. The College Board estimates students spend about $1,200 a year on textbooks, and textbooks prices have risen more than three times the rate of inflation since the 1970s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

While some students purchased textbooks within the first few weeks of class, others still have yet to shell out the money for textbooks and are debating if the purchase will affect their performance on their first exams of the semester.

Students should not have to forgo learning materials, but this will continue to happen as long as professors continue to require costly textbooks. Professors should assign cheaper alternatives to these books, which can often be found in the form of online worksheets and articles.

There should be a push for professors to use open source textbooks, which are written by faculty members and can be found online for free. Professors should also utilize CourseSite by posting links to readings, especially when articles with the same message as textbook readings can be found online for free.

About 65 percent of students nationally do not purchase textbooks because they are too expensive, according to the Student Public Interest Research Group. More than 50 percent of Lehigh students receive financial aid, and these same students often struggle to purchase textbooks. Textbooks add to the soaring cost of higher education, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

At a school where we are directly billed $61,010, textbooks only add to the financial burden. This burden is unnecessary because textbooks are assigned to convey information that can be found on websites in the form of articles and videos.

Some professors assign textbooks at the beginning of the semester and then reference them once or twice throughout the 16 weeks of class. Others routinely assign readings and problems from the bindings of paper and plastic.

It seems, however, that much of the information in textbooks could be presented without the textbook itself. For example, the problems in the calculus textbook that is $288.60 if purchased online at Lehigh’s Barnes and Noble website probably have not changed since calculus was invented a few hundred years ago. Yet, new and expensive editions of the book are released each year — and required by professors each year — with a higher price.

The textbook industry is doing well at the expense of students who are required to purchase these books to pass classes.

On top of textbook costs, students also are paying to do their homework. Professors often require students to buy access codes so they can complete their homework online. This code allows one individual to log in to answer questions that are then corrected and factored in to students’ grades. Because these problems have to be done to pass the class, purchasing an access code is necessary but costly. These access codes should altogether be eliminated as a requirement for classes because there is no cheaper alternative and no way to avoid purchasing them.

Yes, there are programs where students can borrow textbooks through the library. These programs, however, cannot be used by every student on campus because there are more students enrolled in a specific class than there are books to be lent out.

While these programs do help some students, a systematic shift needs to occur within higher education to move away from expensive textbooks.

Professors should assign open source books and avoid requiring textbooks.

Textbooks, which are meant to aid a student’s learning, should not create a barrier for learning.

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