The termination of textbooks

Let 2018 be the last year of money wasted on unused textbooks


Graphic by Victoria Williamson

It sits at my bedside table. The wood-panelling of my walls makes its blue and orange colors dance along with old receipts and gum wrappers drifting across my floor. The dust it has collected makes me reflect on simpler times, perhaps a time when this arrangement of paper didn’t sit beside my bed, plotting its revenge on me as I sleep. Why haven’t you opened me all quarter, it asks.

This is not the story of a tree-born monster or a horror novel I’ve been too scared to open. This is about my textbooks for winter quarter that I have yet to open. I’ve either not opened them because the instructor has not let us know which pages to read each week or because their content is so redundant that using my time to read it makes me feel foolish.

I had to buy three textbooks this quarter, amounting to $213.97. This hardly compares to the $406.67 most private non-profit college students spend on textbooks per quarter according to College Board’s average estimated undergraduate budgets of 2017-2018. But as a student who doesn’t receive financial assistance from her parents, this amount is steep. The money I would have spent on rent, the Internet bill or the Chipotle I long for each day was thrown away when I bought these textbooks.

I won’t name the textbooks I have not used or the classes I have not read for, but I will say my grades in those classes have not been affected by not reading. How I’ve managed to not use these textbooks essentially relies on the class itself. Most of the textbook material is supplemental, as we learn most of what we need to get a good grade during class time. The exact moment I realize reading isn’t necessary in order to get an A in this class, my mindset on the class completely shifts; I study only what’s been taught in class and leave my textbook to collect dust.

But this doesn’t help you save any money if you have already bought the book. Make it a priority to check the class on Rate My Professor to read comments from past students and look for reviews that tell how often the textbook was used. See if any of your friends or classmates have taken the class before you commit to buying a textbook, even if the instructor has said the textbook is required. Don’t buy your book before syllabus week because I’ve noticed, for whatever reason, sometimes when the books show up as “required”  online, the instructor will let us know, days too late, that the book is not required – commence a loud groan from the students who have already bought their books.

Much of the university’s source material can also be found online. For one of my philosophy classes, the instructor required us to buy eight different books that we would only read a few stories from. Though the books were around $15 each, a feeling of disappointment from my frugal nature would have come over me if I wasted $120 on stories that are available as PDFs online.

Another option is to create alliances with classmates who bought the book and read every week, no matter if the reading is required or not. An alliance with them will usually allow you to borrow their textbook frequently. If it’s a rough week and reading 50 pages on the lack of Christian literature in the early Medieval west doesn’t fit in my busy schedule of procrastination and longing for motivation, an ally will give you their notes to at least get a B on your quiz.

In all seriousness, you shouldn’t always rely on not using a textbook. Many instructors require reading each week, and if you don’t do this reading, you will fail. Reading check-in quizzes are a thing, and you will fail if you don’t read. Relying on a class to not use a textbook is a risky game, and sometimes you don’t realize it until halfway through the quarter when the price of the necessary textbooks has tripled in price. At that point, you either fight for friends to let you use their book, or accept the low grade.

Instructors play a big role in the expenses of books. If the assigned readings in class aren’t worth the $90 price-matched book from Amazon in the bookstore, let the students know. Students can’t waste $90 on 15 pages that could be scanned and uploaded to D2L when they’re eating ramen noodles for breakfast. Students should have the option to buy the book as supplemental material. Unless I’m getting my money’s worth, I’m giving them a bad review on Rate My Professor, making sure future students know that lies that syllabus holds.

Read D.K. Schwartz ‘s article on how the expense of access codes for sites like D2L in classes are affecting student’s grades on page 9 in the News section.