OPINION: Don’t Institute Textbook Tuition


College is really, really expensive.

Over the last four years I’ve taken out more money in loans than it cost my parents to buy their home in the 90s, and that’s just scraping the surface of what it’s cost to attend school at Piedmont. It’s not like it’s a secret that college costs this much – I’ve known that it would put me in debt since I first started thinking about it in high school – but I guess living it out has made me particularly sensitive to the raising costs of college. So when Piedmont announced that they’re entertaining another hike in the price of tuition, I go on high alert.

This happened recently when Piedmont’s textbook search committee presented a plan to the faculty that they believed would solve a very serious issue: students aren’t buying their textbooks. The committee’s plan, which I should note has not been officially presented to the student body, is to charge every student with a flat rate fee of $300 each semester to cover all of their textbooks and school supplies. In theory, throughout a student’s four years at Piedmont, the semesters that would have cost them more than $300 will even out with the semesters that would have cost them less than $300.

First red flag raised: I have never, in my eight semesters and 49 classes at Piedmont College, had to pay $300 for a single semester’s worth of supplies. The most I ever had to spend was around $250 during my first semester, but that’s only because I was taking chemistry and I hadn’t figured out how much cheaper it is to rent (or even buy) books online than it is to rent them from the bookstore. Since then, every single semester has cost me substantially less – never more than $150 – because I don’t have a lot of money and I have to find the cheapest possible options.

I understand that not every student is as privileged as I am regarding the costs of their textbooks. Nursing majors, for example, can wind up having to pay over $1000 for a single semester’s worth of books. The same goes for students majoring in cardiovascular technology or even athletic training. These students make up a substantial chunk of Piedmont’s student body, so it makes sense to me how this “textbook tuition” would be beneficial to the masses.

Except that students majoring in those specific fields wouldn’t be eligible for the program. Another red flag raised.

Look, I acknowledge that this change would be beneficial for certain people. Students on full scholarships, for example, might be able to have their books supplied at no costs to them. Chemistry or physics major might actually wind up coming out on top when their textbook costs are averaged out over their college career. For the majority of students, though, this will have a negative effect.

I think the only way to truly make this idea beneficial to the majority of students is to make it an optional feature that students can choose to sign onto if it’s the best choice for their financial situation. If that’s not a viable option, then I think the committee needs to explore ways to help students without collaborating with Barnes and Noble. I would much rather contribute to a fund that directly helps low-income students rent used textbooks than pour more of my money into the profits of a Fortune 1000 company.

I’m not the first person to speak out against this change, either – there was a post made on the school app last week that received dozens of comments from students petitioning against the textbook tuition.

I believe that the members of the textbook committee truly want to help students. I hope that they’ll seriously consider the negative feedback they’ve received, use the new perspective as a learning experience, and find a better way to support struggling students without harming the majority.