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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

University initiative to make textbooks more affordable


For Kyra Kopacz ’22, books and supplies cost between $300 and $500 depending on the semester, leaving her to decide between textbooks and necessities with this semester costing close to $500. 

“On Monday, I realized I had to get two more books for a class and I was really like ‘I don’t know if I can afford to get these,’” Kopacz said. “Even though you need them for a class, you’re like ‘I don’t know if I can eat now, I don’t know if I should spend this $83 on two books or if I should get groceries.”

The University Student Senate (USS) sent out a survey on Oct. 13 to the student body as part of a larger campus-wide initiative to address the cost of textbooks and class materials. 

The survey is part of a larger study from the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), a nonprofit organization that aims to promote citizen activism through its coalition of statewide branches. From their last textbook survey in fall 2019, U.S. PIRG reported that 63% of students skipped buying or renting a textbook and 17% skipped buying or renting an access code needed for their course.

 In response to the U.S. PIRG survey, St. Joe’s students, faculty and staff members are working on campus to reduce the prices of textbooks.

“Really, what this whole thing is about is to get affordable textbooks for students or have it be little to no cost for students to buy textbooks,” said Kali Efstration ’21, library chair of USS.

Efstration has been working closely with Francis A. Drexel Library staff members to create more affordable book options for students. Efstration said she recognizes how textbook costs are a barrier to St. Joe’s students. 

“We really want to get the student’s perspective on this because we want to get the facts that say St. Joe’s students need this,” Efstration said. “This is something that actually affects students whether people think it does or not.”

The initiative to lower the costs of books started over a year ago, with the library taking the lead. Jenifer Baldwin, associate director for public services at the Francis A. Drexel Library, said that the survey will raise awareness and allow her to pair the university’s survey responses with national responses.

“Once we understand what students need from campus, then we can figure out what is the best way to proceed,” Baldwin said.

CollegeBoard estimates that students spend $1,000 a year on textbooks between two semesters. These costs can negatively impact student success in and out of the classroom, according to Kim Allen-Stuck, Ph.D., assistant vice president of student success and support.

“Anytime you have something that’s adding stress to your life it’s going to displace something else,” Allen-Stuck said. “Energy that might have been put into school, fitness and getting a good night’s sleep, [when stress is added to that it] is now bumping out some of those other things.” 

Allen-Stuck said there is currently a fund for students struggling to afford textbooks. Students can use textbooks The Success Center has on hand, or The Success Center can help students pay for textbooks if they demonstrate financial need, Allen-Stuck said.

“I’ll be interested to see what the results of the survey are because, in talking to students, I feel like students generally spend between $300 and $500 on books [per semester] and I’d say $300 is really low,” Allen-Stuck said.

Currently, the library is advocating for two alternative solutions to expensive learning materials, Baldwin said. She recommends using open educational resources, which are academic textbooks published under an open license, or using the library’s own collection of e-books and articles that are free to students. 

Baldwin said this initiative is aimed at faculty members to help them adapt their course materials for students, and some faculty members have already revamped their courses to use only these resources.

“We’re trying to help faculty understand the struggle that students face and to raise awareness that they have the ability to help students,” Baldwin said.

Kopacz said there are ways her professors have begun to adapt their course material to be more affordable, but there are still ways professors can continue to address the financial burden of textbooks.

“I feel like a lot of the time, there could be ways that professors could upload chapters, especially if you have a book that you’re not reading every chapter,” Kopacz said. “Professors could upload PDFs of the book, or I have one class that has no textbooks and just [free] articles uploaded onto Canvas.”

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