It’s not the textbooks that are weighing down UCLA students. It’s their costs.
UCLA students spend an average of $1,000 every year on textbooks and other course materials. Although most students do not buy brand new textbooks at full price from the Associated Students UCLA Bookstore, even the “cheaper” alternatives such as the association’s textbook rental program are costly enough.
Of course, some students make use of library course reserves, which allow them to rent course materials for free for two hours. While this system is great for cutting costs and giving students a fair chance at accessing textbooks, the time constraint and demand for textbooks are limiting. Two hours at the library doesn’t leave students with much time use the books, especially if they commute to and from campus. And if the book they need is already checked out, they’re out of luck.
On top of textbook costs, students also have to spend money on other academic materials, such as course readers, past exams or access codes to complete homework assignments. UCLA has encouraged faculty to consider using Open Educational Resources, which are educational resources anyone can freely download, edit and share, but few professors actually use.
To improve textbook accessibility, UCLA Library should work with publishers to purchase e-book licenses to legally give all students access to core textbooks through an online portal. UCLA should also better promote its OERs, such as through faculty newsletters or department announcements to inform professors of how to eliminate the staggering costs of their other required course materials.
Such a system would remove the physical limitations surrounding library textbooks and allow UCLA to accommodate more students’ academic needs by lightening the combined financial load of course readers and textbooks.
Aastha Chaudhary, a second-year financial actuarial mathematics student, is one of many Bruins who has felt financial pressure from buying textbooks. Chaudhary said she has switched out of courses in the past simply because they required textbooks. She has even resorted to sharing a book with two friends for a general education course, taking turns reading it to avoid having to pay the full price because of her family’s financial situation.
Chaudhary added course readers have become an added burden for her and other students who can’t avoid buying them. She said access codes are also a big issue for her because even if she rents the book from the library for free, she still needs to purchase codes to submit her homework online for the course.
UCLA Library has tried to remedy this by educating instructors about OERs through the Affordable Course Materials Initiative, which encourages instructors to use low-cost or free alternatives to expensive course materials. Instructors apply to be paired with a team of library specialists who help them identify and adopt alternative course materials.
OERs can also provide relatively cheap hard copy textbooks, said Nicole Allen, a director at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. SPARC is an international alliance of libraries, which UCLA associates with, that works to lower the barriers of higher education. Some of the few professors who use OERs even go so far as to design their course in such a way that purchasing the textbook is entirely optional. The problem, however, is many professors don’t know about OERs and therefore do not actively try to choose textbooks in the public domain, Allen said.
If UCLA is going to truly tackle the issue of academic affordability, it needs to work with publishers to provide cheaper textbook access while promoting OERs to lighten the financial burden of purchasing course materials.
UCLA Library should purchase e-book licenses from publishers to create an online portal where students can access textbooks with their UCLA login information. Students could pay a small fee to access the portal to cover the cost of the licensing fees.
At the same time, UCLA should better communicate with faculty and UCLA Library staff, be that through department meetings or group email lists, to encourage more students to take advantage of OERs and open up access to course materials, such as course readers and required readings.
Doing so would not only save students thousands of dollars in textbook and course material money, but also give them more access to resources to prevent them from taking extreme measures just to do well in their courses.
While some might argue it’s not UCLA’s job to provide free textbooks to students and students should be responsible for financing their textbooks, it’s in UCLA’s best interest to prioritize textbook accessibility if it wants to maintain academic retention. And the best way to do that is to address the financial barriers surrounding textbooks and course materials, which an online textbook portal and increased OER promotion would do.
Traditional textbook sale models are a thing of the past, and it’s time for UCLA to turn the page.