The new Course Materials Initiative was created at UMBC to provide students with “affordable” course materials, which include online textbooks and ancillary materials. If a student registers for any of the 12 courses that are included in the Spring 2016 phase, the course material payment is automatically added onto the semi-annual tuition fees. Materials will be available through Blackboard, and will be limited to online copies of textbooks.
Although the CMI does save paper by utilizing online textbooks, many students prefer hard copies because reading on screens can strain the eyes. “Well if they’re gonna force us to use this service it should also come with a physical textbook,” commented Lingzi Ouyang about the CMI on the ‘UMBC Textbooks for Cheaper’ Facebook page. Students have to pay extra for a hard copy, or are allowed to print 10 pages per login, which still costs about 10 cents per page at the library.
With textbook prices rising steeply, students should be concerned about having to buy such highly priced books from the bookstore when there are cheaper alternatives. Textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977, and they are still on the rise. Does this initiative truly help students save money?
Eight of the 12 courses on the list are 100-level introductory classes that are composed of mostly freshman students. At first glance, to a student who has no experience with buying textbooks and online programs for college courses, this initiative seems like a simple, efficient and cost effective way of acquiring their necessary learning resources.
While in some cases the CMI may save students money, there are other instances where students can buy used versions of textbooks online at fairer prices than the CMI offers. Victor Torres, a student posting on the Facebook page complained that, “At least before, we had other options instead of buying a $200 textbook. Now, even if the price is reduced (by however much), we’re not even able to get out of paying for it.” If a student had the means of obtaining the materials through friends and the internet for no cost, they would still have to pay for them through the CMI.
For example, the CMI price for the book “You May Ask Yourself,” by Dalton Conley, required for Sociology 101 is $25.07. With a quick Amazon search, this book can be found for $10, less than over half of the CMI price. “Why would I want to, on top of paying for the class, pay for an ebook just because it’s lumped into the enrollment fee when I could be getting it for free?” contested Carly Sciandra, a sophomore biology major.
The CMI should allow people to opt out and then set the prices based on how many people want to utilize the program, but shouldn’t be forced upon students.