There is nothing like receiving a list of required textbooks at the beginning of the semester. And there is nothing like seeing the price tag that makes one wonder why textbooks still exist.


Photo of several textbooks

Teachers will assign a thousand required readings that cost a million dollars. They only cost a couple of hundred dollars, but that is still a lot. By the end of the semester, some students will have never opened their books, or the professor will have switched them up midway through the term. Neither of those scenarios is fair for the student. To add insult to injury, students are unlikely to be able to sell these books back at the end of the semester, costing them hundreds and leaving them stuck with a book they will never touch again. 

While the amount and cost of textbooks are hyperbolic, they are a necessary component of learning. The above scenarios do not always ensue, but there are alternatives to assigning costly textbooks to students who are likely already financially struggling.

"A good instructor wants to use the best materials, and some of the expensive textbooks are excellent and arguably worth the price," said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University, to the New York Times. "But some really aren't, especially when there are cheaper or free alternatives of equal quality out there."

Wu has a point, but most professors do not think that way. In fact, according to another New York Times article, most professors do not even know the cost of the books they require. Because of this, it seems unfair that teachers continuously assign textbooks to their students.

Students are exploring other options to obtain their books to save money. Some students get their required books from libraries or other free options; others go without textbooks altogether. A whopping 65% of the students from a 2014 study said they did not buy textbooks.

Finances are the most significant reason students tend to drop out of school, and the inflated cost of textbooks contributes to that. The correlation between not buying books and not doing well in class is larger than people realize. Textbook costs can seem small, but to some students, it's the difference between attending school or eating.

As long as professors continue to assign textbooks, they should work with students to achieve more affordable options. Professors can notify their students of the assigned books by emailing them well in advance of the semester to ensure that students who need to order them from elsewhere (i.e., Amazon or can purchase them in time for the start of the semester.

UNC Charlotte's guidelines do not restrict professors from discussing textbook options with their students. Perhaps professors can work with the bookstores to ensure that the bookstores are offering the lowest possible price to students.

Some professors let students obtain their assigned books in the most affordable way. Unfortunately, others are fine with forcing students to choose between a textbook and a meal.

Students are at school to learn. They should not have to feel so discouraged about the costs of books that they drop out. Teachers who can help with this should — it is in the best interest of everyone.