When was the last time you spent $1200 on books in a year?
Most of us, even those of us who really, really love books, probably never have. If you’re a college student, however, the odds are that you did in 2020, and you will again this year.
That’s how much students spend annually on textbooks and other academic materials, according to the College Board.
It’s not a lot when compared to what most colleges cost for a semester, but it’s still a lot of money, especially for students who are already on the economic margins.
Why are textbooks so expensive? That’s basic capitalism: when you tell people they have to buy a book, and there’s not much competition to produce that book, then the people selling it can charge almost anything. What choice do students have?
In his budget presentation this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom called college textbooks “a racket,” and he’s right. It’s a clear example of how we must better prioritize the needs of marginalized students. Given how important education is to our economy and to economic justice, it should be a no-brainer: if we want students to get a good education, we shouldn’t make it harder for them to get the books they need. It’s one system of many that needs to be experimented with and changed.
Newsom’s budget proposes $15 million to create free alternatives to commercial textbooks. Steps like this, experimenting with new programs that can make the burden easier for some students, some of the time, is exactly what we should be doing. Then we can take what works in that program and expand it to help even more students. That’s how progress happens.
Calbright’s educational resources are already free to our students, and more programs like this will help the populations we are trying to support. Textbook costs should never stand in the way of people who want to go to college.
It’s exciting to see additional experimentation to make education accessible to more students across California, and we’re proud to see this movement picking up steam.