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Report sparks discussion of textbook affordability and solutions

Textbook prices have risen so high that their inconvenience is no longer avoidable, according to a report released by the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group on Feb. 3. 

The data, collected during 2015, found that nearly one third of enrolled undergraduate students on financial aid used an average of $300 of their aid to cover the costs of textbooks.This resulted in over 5 million students using financial aid for textbooks, spending a total of $3.15 billion a year.

Michelle Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said textbook expenses can add up.

“The rising cost of textbooks is an issue that we have to pay attention to because it does have an impact on college affordability," she said. 

Representatives from NCPIRG, UNC and North Carolina State University discussed steps to combat rising textbook costs on a teleconference Wednesday. 

Sam Snider, a UNC sophomore and coordinator for NCPIRG's statewide textbooks campaign, said choosing not to buy expensive textbooks can have real academic consequences.

“(Students) can either purchase the necessary textbook and add to their financial hardship, take time away from studying to work extra hours or go without the book and accept the impact on their ability to learn and perform well,” he said. 

UNC's student government is taking steps to ensure that students do not have to make those tough decisions, according to Lee Beckman, student body treasurer and director of the Affordability Task Force.

Beckman said the task force — which aims to decrease the living costs of students — can most tangibly affect students' textbook alternatives.

The task force's goal is to have professors publish textbook options with prices in their syllabuses, so students are aware of the most affordable options, he said. 

“As an institution, we can work to make information like this more readily available,” Beckman said on the call. 

Other North Carolina institutions have joined the task force in its mission — including Appalachian State University, he said. 

And this semester, the group persuaded four departments at UNC to pledge to provide online or older, more affordable editions of textbooks for students. 

Another solution proposed by Snider involved replacing traditional textbooks with open education resources or openly licensed textbooks. According to Snider, these books are available for free online and print copies are cheaper to rent than traditional sources. 

Will Cross, director of the Copyright and Digital Scholarship Center at the NCSU Libraries, also advocated for textbook alternatives. Cross said during the conference that all professors have access to open source materials and they allow for more customized teaching in the classroom.

“We have the potential of putting billions back into student pockets,” Snider said on the call. “The higher education community just has to break the market.”

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