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The Real Reasons Students Aren’t Getting Their Hands on Course Materials

Posted by Jason Smallheer on Jan 10, 2017 5:30:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, course materials, textbook affordability

Students are not purchasing their course materials and there are reasons outside of cost. Factors include faculty disagreeing with administration, students spending their money elsewhere and a lack of selection when trying to purchase materials late.The Real Reasons Students Aren’t Getting Their Hands on Course MaterialsWhile the cost of textbooks has increased more than four times the rate of inflation, student spending on course materials has been on the decline. According to OnCampus Research®'s Spring 2016 Student Watch™ survey, students spent an average of $602 on course materials, 14% less than the 2007-08 academic year. Reasons for the decrease in spending include the availability of less expensive options like Open Educational Resources, course packs, digital products and fewer students thinking course materials are useful.

Conflict between faculty and school administration can also lead to students not making course material purchases. In 2015, a professor challenged the administration’s mandate on a $180 textbook. He opted to use two texts; one cost $75 and the other was free online. The professor argued the resources he found were just as effective as the mandated text and saved students money. The university stated all sections of the course were to use the same text. In an effort to save students money, two professors from Furman University disliked the textbooks available to them and opted to write their own, and sell it for less than $20. The influence faculty have on students making a course material purchase is powerful. In the same OnCampus Research survey, more than 30% of students said they would not make a purchase if their instructor did not deem it essential.

Another obstacle students have to making their course material purchases are their peers. One of the challenges facing college students is the financial stress resulting from participating in the same activities as their friends. In some cases, the money allotted for textbook purchases is used for joining “financially inclusive communities and programs” or alcohol.

More than 70% of students wait until after classes have started before investing in any course materials. The result is less available, lower-priced options due to other students having already made their purchases. In some cases all that remains are outdated versions of the text or more expensive new titles. The result, students opting to not make the purchase at all.

There are multiple solutions to these challenges. Some speak to the self-accountability of the student, textbook adoption processes, whether or not the price to the student is considered by faculty and finally, a partnership with a provider that can supply more titles and options at a lower cost.

No single solution will result in all students acquiring 100% of their course materials. However, acknowledging price is not the sole factor keeping materials out of student’s hands paves the way for solutions to other obstacles. When students have the materials they need, they have a greater chance of classroom success.

About Jason Smallheer

Jason Smallheer worked for MBS from 2016 to 2017. His diverse career includes freelance work, broadcast radio and ski resort marketing. He has a passion for sharing ideas, helping businesses grow and professional development. When not expressing himself through writing, he enjoys time with his family and being outside doing anything that can result in scuffed knees and dirty clothes.

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