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Editorial: Professors must work to alleviate the burden of high textbook costs on students

By Editorial Board

Aug. 17, 2020 2:23 p.m.

Students shouldn’t have to skip meals to buy textbooks.

Nor should they have to risk malware from contraband websites that promise free textbooks, skip out on necessary course materials because of high costs or pass on a class altogether.

But, they do.

According to a June report from the United States Public Interest Research Group, 66% of surveyed students didn’t buy course materials because of cost, 19% factored textbook costs into what courses they took and 11% reported having to skip meals just to afford textbooks.

These statistics point to only one solution: During the pandemic-induced global recession, UCLA must do everything in its power to prevent textbooks from being an unnecessary stressor on the student population.

Professors have the power to dictate which course materials are most appropriate for their classes. They should also be keenly aware of the unique circumstances of an online university – textbooks are often the only thing students have to meaningfully learn from in the absence of in-person instruction. Students should not have to decide between food and textbooks when calculating their budget for what is undoubtedly an inferior learning experience. Fall quarter and beyond, professors and their departments must find ways to decrease their dependence on textbooks by either making their resources free or using open-access materials.

In the meantime, campus organizations have helped plug the gap UCLA hasn’t. The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Academic Affairs Commission offers up to $100 in scholarships to help students pay for textbooks, while the UCLA chapter of California Public Interest Research Group continues to urge professors to shift toward open-access materials for their courses.

Here’s yet another case of students tackling issues that those in charge should be able to address. This is a unique moment for everyone involved – improvisation is key and the unconventional should be welcomed. Professors can do far better than delegating classwork and readings to required new edition textbooks that include minimal changes from past editions.

Spring quarter was a situational exception – classes had to be reworked into an online format with less than a month’s notice. But professors have more time to better prepare their classes for the fall, and their shortlist of improvements should include transforming course materials from costly textbooks to freely accessible documents for students.

It’s a tall task to ask professors to detach from an industry firmly entrenched in the realm of academics. But they should at the very least explore alternatives – especially when it benefits students.

While the pandemic may have worsened the issue of textbook affordability, campus organizations have been fighting this issue for years. Long-term solutions are needed. If professors are already dedicating the time to make their courses more accessible to financially burdened students, there’s no reason why they can’t continue doing so under normal circumstances. After all, the issue of textbook affordability won’t go away once the pandemic ends.

Every penny counts. Professors can and should help their students stay financially afloat.

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