Required textbook $100 ? Write it on your course evaluation

Scott St. Louis

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By Scott St. Louis

Guest columnist

It’s a weight on our shoulders, growing more onerous for every class of students entering college; a ball and chain inhibiting our upward socioeconomic mobility; a cross that many of us bear for years after graduation; and, most importantly, it’s a burden that keeps many brilliant people from attending university in the first place. Colossal financial obligations constitute a defining aspect of our generation’s experience with postsecondary education. Tuition, books, housing, food: it all adds up quickly, and nobody works for free.

I believe wholeheartedly that GVSU offers excellent education, and that concerns about student affordability inform virtually every decision made here. However, our community can always do more to address the ever-growing cost of college. As a full-time student working two jobs and two internships this semester, I understand the challenges that college students face in order to pay for the present while preparing for the future. In fact, I’ve developed a reputation in several circles on campus as an insomniac overachiever, hellbent on maximizing my return on the investment of attending university. I’m not ashamed in the slightest. GVSU is the most important choice I’ve ever made, and the stakes are high. Like most students, I have no time to waste.

Even so, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have access to financial aid and generous merit scholarships. My parents help me to front the cost of books at the beginning of each semester, allowing me to pay them back as my checks come in. Yet this is not the case for thousands of my peers.

A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups found that the average cost of textbooks per semester is roughly $1,200. Hitting home, a GVSU Climate Assessment Report prepared in 2011 found that 57 percent of all students have experienced financial hardship at Grand Valley; of those, 69 percent reported difficulty affording books. This means that roughly 39 percent of GVSU students struggle to afford essential materials. I’m not surprised. Speak with any student on campus, and you’ll find that they – or students they know – have made the choice at least once to skip out on buying a required text.

As the Student Senate Vice President for Educational Affairs, these problems are deeply concerning to me. Students cannot learn from material that they cannot afford, period. That’s why I’m proposing a simple action that all students can take as they fill out their course evaluations at the end of this semester.

Students, let’s challenge faculty members to lend affordability greater weight in text selection. If you believe that one of your required texts is too expensive, use the open-response questions asking about your course experience to let them know. (Politely, please!) Tell them your story. Follow through with them during office hours. Stand up for one another. Let’s work together to make sure that building our tomorrow doesn’t break the bank today.