At the beginning of each semester, Georgetown students scramble to find affordable textbooks in the short period between enrollment and when course materials are required for use.
As few professors post textbook lists before registration, students are often left with no option but to drop classes or purchase expensive textbooks in order to use them in time for assignments. To make textbooks more accessible to Georgetown students, the university should require professors to post reading lists before registration.
In recent years, textbook prices have increased to exorbitant rates, crippling student access to necessary course materials. Textbook prices rose by 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, while consumer prices increased by only 28 percent in the same time period, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
As textbook prices increase on a national level, Georgetown is also complicit in selling expensive textbooks at the university bookstore. While the store matches Amazon prices, its stock of used books available for rent or purchase often sells out quickly, failing to meet student demand. When professors post textbook lists late and require them for immediate use, students are pressured to purchase the newer, more costly books.
Expensive textbook costs have a detrimental effect on student welfare: 85 percent of current and former college students across the nation said textbook and course materials were financially stressful. That number was higher than the percentage of students who said food, health care and housing were financially burdensome in a 2018 study by education provider Cengage. More concerning is that students admitted to skipping meals to afford course materials, according to the study.
The same study found that minority students — particularly black students — are disproportionately affected by expensive textbook costs and are more likely to sacrifice their well-being and education to save for them, such as by taking fewer classes or skipping trips home.
Students should not have to deprive themselves of meals and visits home to afford course materials; improving textbook transparency is a simple and necessary way to make textbooks more accessible for students.
Posting reading lists before registration would allow more time for students to find cheaper alternatives. Instead of being coerced into purchasing newer, more expensive books from the bookstore, students could borrow books from peers or purchase cheaper materials from alternative textbook sellers.
Releasing book lists would not require professors to post their entire syllabi; only required texts would need to be made available to students before registration opens.
While some professors have already taken important steps to increase textbook accessibility by allowing older, cheaper textbook editions and limiting required course materials, increasing transparency would ensure that students in all classes have an opportunity to find inexpensive course materials.
With greater access to affordable books, active student engagement and diverse participation could increase as students from financially strained backgrounds would not be as pressured to drop courses.
Ideally, students’ primary motivation for staying in a class should be academic interest, not cost. But cost is an integral component of students’ academic performance — not every student can afford to ignore cost in the pursuit of education.
Although the Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access has made attempts to alleviate textbook costs by offering free textbook rentals for students at the beginning of the semester, these efforts fall short; as books are donated by other students, the quantity and variety of books in the rental library fail to meet the entirety of student needs.
By ignoring the hardships students face when abruptly confronted with excessive textbook prices, the university fails to ensure the well-being of its students.
Georgetown must understand that exorbitant textbook costs are a prohibitive factor for many students’ education and quality of life. To remedy textbook inaccessibility, the university must require that professors increase course material transparency.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and chaired by the opinion editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.