Section: Opinion

Kenyon must address the skyrocketing price of textbooks

The cost of textbooks has steadily ascended to exorbitant levels. While it’s a universal sentiment across American colleges, the issue rings particularly true for students at Kenyon who rely on financial aid and are granted stipends for books and supplies. These students might seem immune to the strain of textbook prices, but the reality diverges from this assumption.

Take, for instance, the STEM Scholars program at Kenyon. It provides a commendable $500 annual book and supply allowance, accompanied by a one-time grant of $1,000 for computer hardware and software. However, these seemingly generous stipends falter in the face of ever-rising digital textbook costs and particular choices made by professors. The unfortunate consequence? Students are left to bridge the financial gaps out of pocket. 

There exists a noticeable discrepancy in textbook costs across disciplines. STEM textbooks, given their specialized content and often accompanying digital resources, tend to be pricier than those in humanities courses. This disparity amplifies the financial strain on STEM students, making their stipends even less sufficient.

The crux of the problem arises from the divide between the people selecting the textbooks and those bearing their costs. Professors, focused on academic content, might unknowingly opt for expensive digital resources unavailable at the bookstore, leaving students grappling with unforeseen expenses. This dynamic echoes larger issues seen across colleges, where the textbook selection process is plagued by a lack of price consideration. According to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund, a staggering sixty-five percent of students refrained from purchasing a textbook due to its high cost — an alarming indication that price imposes significant educational barriers.

Moreover, textbook publishers have skillfully established a monopoly, exacerbating these challenges. Regular updates to editions, often with negligible changes, and the bundling of textbooks with online program subscriptions have both inflated prices and reduced resale value. While the arguments for updated editions range from data accuracy to the inclusion of new research, a discerning eye can often spot mere cosmetic changes veiled as academic updates. 

Though one might argue that quality textbooks — comprehensive, hardcover and full color – merit their hefty price tags, the concern remains; access should not be a luxury. Students should not have to compromise on their learning due to prohibitive costs. 

Thankfully, solutions are available, provided Kenyon takes proactive measures. A more adaptive textbook stipend system, based on actual need rather than a flat rate, would be a vital enhancement. Instead of a generic stipend, students should be reimbursed for the exact amount spent on textbooks. Another viable solution lies in open-source materials. Professors can tap into free online resources like CORE Econ, which offers quality content without the accompanying price tag. In cases where only specific chapters of a textbook are required, securing permissions or licenses from publishers would allow students access without buying the entire book. Clear communication is also pivotal. Before a semester starts, professors and students can discuss textbook editions, determining if older, cheaper versions can suffice when updates are minor.

Kenyon’s existing framework, where the bookstore facilitates the resale of textbooks, is a step in the right direction. However, the scale of the textbook affordability crisis suggests this isn’t enough. There’s a clear need for more dynamic, perhaps digital, platforms for direct student-to-student exchanges. Such platforms can expedite the resale process and offer competitive pricing, ensuring that students have a broader range of affordable textbook options each semester.

The essence of Kenyon’s mission revolves around nurturing intellectual and personal growth. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure that academic growth isn’t impeded by the weight of expensive textbooks. Kenyon should recognize that true educational commitment goes beyond the classroom — it also involves ensuring access to the essential tools for learning.

Dylan Sibbitt ’26 is the opinions editor at the Collegian. He is a political science major from San Francisco. He can be reached at sibbitt1@kenyon.edu.

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