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Photo-Credit: Zachary Garmoe for TRW

Textbook trauma

Since midterms are over, students have been in their classes long enough to gauge whether or not they will actually use the hundred-dollar textbooks they were forced to purchase at the beginning of the semester.

At this point, if a textbook hasn’t been touched, it probably won’t be used for the remainder of the class session. What will now undoubtedly stress out many, though, is figuring out what they will do with these ridiculously overpriced books once exams are over.

Thousands of others have this same problem. Luckily, people who were once in the same situation have created textbook price comparison websites, like, to help current students find the cheapest version of their textbooks. In some cases, an $80 textbook can be purchased gently-used for as low as $10.

However, that doesn’t quite solve the problem. Once a textbook is purchased and used, regardless of how much it was originally bought for, the value of it decreases – in some cases, dramatically – and essentially, it is hard to get rid of. For those who were unable to purchase their books for better prices, this means that they will have textbooks that were worth $100 or more lying around for no reason – unless they find someone willing to purchase it for significantly less than what it was bought for on Yik Yak or a Facebook group.

There are also the prices of virtual labs to consider. When it comes economics or French classes, for example, certain professors require students to purchase labs so that they can complete homework assignments online. Though these tools are useful for some, having to purchase labs that can cost more than $60 is a pain for many because they can only be used once, so they can’t be resold.

For those who cannot afford to purchase these one-time labs, no alternatives have been found. No one wants to get zeros on all of their homework assignments, but what does one do when they must purchase an expensive textbook and an equally expensive virtual lab code that they can’t afford? How does one choose between purchasing a code that will allow them to complete homework that will affect their grade, or purchasing a textbook that will potentially let them to understand lectures better and pass their exams?

It would be helpful if professors disclosed whether or not these textbooks are even used in class, and if they are, to what extent. Though some tech-savvy professors let their students know about cheaper alternatives available, not everyone has knowledge of that sort on this matter. Sympathy for the price of these materials only goes so far when one has no other choice but to splurge on these items if they want to do well in the class.

At the beginning of the fall 2015 semester, UMUC announced that it was going 100-percent textbook-less for undergraduates, and that by fall 2016, all of its graduate classes would be textbook-free too. In place of expensive books, UMUC is using free digital resources to accompany its classes, and according to its website, the 80,000 students attending the school will save millions of dollars annually.  

The professors who feel guilty having their students purchase expensive textbooks should remember that there are free peer-reviewed texts available online through resources that are already covered by tuition. Not having to worry about additional textbook costs on top of the increasing cost of tuition would be helpful.

Even if this may not be practical for every class, what would be useful is if professors wrote in class descriptions what textbooks and other materials one would have to purchase if they were to take the class. This way, one could determine prior to enrollment if they had the funds to take a certain class in a particular semester.

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