While spending my summer in Colombia, I decided to look up the textbooks I would need for when I return to campus this fall. I entered the final price into my calculator, hoping that the total wouldn’t go through the roof: $100.66. Compared to other semesters, this was relatively low. But then again, I was still missing the books for two classes for which no texts had been assigned yet. There was no telling how much that price tag would increase.
The next day, I visited my cousin, who is studying mass communication at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, a university in Bogotá, Colombia. With the cost of textbooks still weighing on my mind, I noticed that my cousin had not once mentioned books, looked at a bookstore or even hinted at having to go buy textbooks. When I asked him about it, he told me that in his two semesters at college, he had never bought a single book. The two texts that were required for his current classes could both be found online for free.
In the four semesters I’ve been at GW, I spent a total of $1,100.14 on books. And most of those texts were rented, often a cheaper alternative. Therefore, hearing that my cousin paid nothing for his books shocked me. This discovery prompted me to inquire further, and I asked my family if this was normal. As it turns out, it is rare for students in Colombia to buy textbooks. Instead, family members I spoke with who are studying at different colleges in Colombia said they usually rely on photocopies provided to them in libraries or online. Most students in Colombia don’t buy a single textbook in their college career.
GW and other colleges in the United States need to stop asking students to spend an absurd amount of money on textbooks. Professors can be the real agents of change by following Colombia’s lead and uploading all the required readings for class to Blackboard.
In some colleges in Colombia, like the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Universidad Sergio Arboleda, students can go to their university’s library and access a special folder that is left there by the professor. All they need is the class number and the professor name, and they will get a package that contains all the readings they need for the semester. Students can then photocopy specific readings they need, or get a copy of the entire thing. Typically, they end up paying about 6 cents per page for photocopies, totaling to about $3 if they copy all the readings for one class.
At other colleges, including Universidad de los Andes, ranked one of the top colleges in Colombia, professors electronically send students all the readings they need through a system similar to Blackboard, or through Dropbox. This is completely free, and is usually done to save paper, according to my cousin who was a teaching assistant in Los Andes. In both of these examples, students are provided with the materials they need for all their classes for little to no cost.
Schools like GW, which charge students a substantial amount of money in tuition, should provide students with everything they need to get an education, including textbooks. We pay more than $50,000 just for tuition at GW, and that should be more than enough to cover materials. Although it is common for U.S. universities to not include textbooks in tuition, it is unfair and unnecessary for students to have to pay about $1,325 extra on materials each semester.
The best method to adopt would be to provide all readings through Blackboard since it wouldn’t require creating a new system. Professors would just need to upload the chapters they will use during the semester. This would be legal under copyright law because the TEACH Act “allows digital copies in course management systems under a specific set of conditions.” It is sanctioned as long as the copy is exactly what is needed in the course, and there are security measures set up to ensure that only students in the course have access to the work.
Some professors already do post class readings on Blackboard, but all professors should follow that method. It’s time for professors to provide students with all the readings they need to help ease the financial burden. Books add up. A professor may not think they’re hurting the students when they assign five books that cost about $50 total, but they often forget that students take five classes a semester. Even if students rent textbooks like I do, the large number of books we are required to purchase usually means that even renting is still very expensive.
Countries like Colombia understand the financial hardship many students face while attending school and have alleviated some of that burden with free textbooks. A similar solution in the United States would help already struggling students have more money for tuition and other necessities. Education should be about how much we are learning, not about figuring out how to pay for the textbooks we need to learn.
Laura Castro Lindarte, a senior double-majoring in journalism and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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