Textbook affordability survey results show student concern

A survey from fall of 2017 showed student disappointment in the high costs of textbooks. The survey results were compiled and presented to USUAA by Veronica Howard, associate professor of psychology, on Feb. 16.

Geser Bat-Erdene, USUAA vice president, was the author of the original affordability survey. He began a project in spring of 2017 to investigate student opinions on textbook prices, and how they are affected by them. Last fall, Bat-Erdene and Howard teamed up to create a new draft of the survey that would reach a larger percentage of the student body.

“Having information on a wide variety of students, not just those in departments that I have easy access to, is so important to determine some next steps in increasing awareness for students and faculty for textbook alternatives,” Howard said.

Of the random sample of 4,000 students contacted by the Office of Student Affairs, 526 completed the survey.

The survey included questions such as “what sources of funding do you use to pay for textbooks and other supplies?” and “imagine that you paid out of pocket for all required textbooks and other course materials for your courses. How much would that cost?”

There was also a section at the end that allowed for students to write in their own thoughts and opinions.

Howard expected the cost of textbooks to be reported as high, but said she was surprised by just how high they were.

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“According to national data, students are budgeted to spend $1,200 per year for books and materials. Split this across two semesters, you’d expect to pay about $600 per semester. However, the median or middle value for UAA students is between $500 and $599,” Howard said.

Alice Williams, psychology major, played a role in creating the textbook affordability survey by transcribing the questions into a survey software platform.

“I think that the price of textbooks today is outrageous and that it should honestly be illegal to issue a new textbook, such as an algebra book, every year or so when the info it contains doesn’t significantly change,” Williams said.

From the survey results, Howard concluded that the cost of textbooks at UAA creates a barrier to success for many students.

“The most surprising and moving part of the survey was reading the open-ended comments that people would leave about how the cost of textbooks has impacted their life, not captured in the survey,” Howard said.

Eleanor Mayo, nursing student, sees the results of the survey present in her own academic life.

“The cost of books has lead me to have to choose from paying for bills, buying some food or racking up more credit card debt,” Mayo said.

Howard has come up with multiple ways to help make textbooks more affordable for students. This includes increasing library textbook reserves and allowing students to adopt older, cheaper versions of textbooks. She also advocates for open educational resources — resources that can be freely downloaded, edited and shared at no cost to the student.

Bat-Erdene hopes to find a long-term solution to help reduce the cost of textbooks for students, rather than an easy, short-term fix.

“We don’t expect any immediate change, we are looking long-term,” Bat-Erdene said. “If implemented properly, [change] can benefit the entire student population and if proven successful, my bigger vision is influencing other states. We have the power to influence.”

Both Bat-Erdene and Howard agree that student help is needed.

“Unless students start sharing the messages they’ve given to me with their professors in a respectful and open dialogue, it’s very easy for faculty to lose sight of how much textbooks really affect students,” Howard said.

Bat-Erdene and Howard plan to conduct a similar survey at least once a year for five years in order to make solid conclusions. They have also been in contact with the student body leadership of UAS and UAF. They hope both universities will conduct a similar survey to help gain a better understanding of textbook costs in the UA System as a whole.