Diana Wallens: Textbook loan system would help low-income students

Updated: Oct. 31, 2016 at 9:41 a.m.

Class registration is drawing near, with most students registering next week. Students will go through the trials and tribulations of signing up for classes, and once they’re registered, they will take on another challenge: purchasing books.

This task is particularly difficult for students on tight budgets. Students don’t have a choice of whether or not they buy a book for a class: They must purchase it, regardless of the price, if they want to succeed. We all know that books are expensive, but some students genuinely do not have the money to buy them. For example, I needed to buy a book for my chemistry class this semester that cost more than $90 to rent from the bookstore. I had to plan out purchasing other essential items to be able to afford that $90 book.

To help out students on budgets, GW should implement a University-wide textbook loan system to eliminate or significantly reduce the cost of books. A textbook loan system could operate similarly to GW’s new food pantry, another service for students who struggle to afford basic items. The food pantry allows low-income students to apply to receive free food from the University. A textbook loan system could work in a similar way.

GW wouldn’t be the first university to set up this type of system: MiraCosta College has a textbook loan application as part of its student information management system – a website similar to MyGW. All students need to do is login and enter the names of up to four books they need and their income information. Although students aren’t guaranteed to receive all four books they request, even getting one or two of the books could be a huge relief for students struggling to afford them. Brown University also has a textbook loan system called First Generation Low Income Partnership Library (FLIP). This student-run program lends textbooks to students who can’t afford them. FLIP books are located on special shelves in Brown University’s library, so students who need the books don’t stick out from other library patrons.

GW’s loan system could combine elements of both of these programs. Like MiraCosta College’s, a GW loan system could have an online database for students to sign up and request books. But to make sure students don’t feel uncomfortable getting the books, the University should take Brown’s approach and keep them in Gelman Library.

Of course, it would cost money for the University to just give books to students in need. Therefore, students should be involved and help mitigate some of these costs. At the end of each semester, students could choose whether to sell back their books to the bookstore or to donate books to the loaning program. Students who registered for textbooks could be provided with a list of the books in the loan system and request the ones they need. Officials would only need to provide space in Gelman Library for shelves of books.

Affordability has been a major concern for top administrators, so a textbook loan system would fit in with already-existing programs. In 2014, University President Steven Knapp created a task force to help low income students attend and succeed at GW. Since then, officials have expressed their desires to make higher education more affordable for students.

A textbook loan system would lighten financial strain for many students, and it seems like an obvious next step for administrators who support accessibility. Easy access to textbooks students otherwise could not afford ensures that they are able to meet their class requirements and stay on the path to academic success. The University wouldn’t need to expend much effort or money to implement the system. All officials need to do is clear a shelf in the library and set up infrastructure to support a donation and loan program.

Getting to GW is only half the battle – affording to succeed here can be vastly more complicated.

Diana Wallens, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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