Let’s Provide Students with Affordable Textbooks: Emmitt Sklar ’21

Above the smiling cardboard cutouts of Steph Curry and Davidson Grandparent mugs, the overpriced textbooks sit in the Davidson College Store. 

I went over there the first week of the semester to pick up my textbooks. I have 17 books. All together, used and rented, they cost about $320. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that is typical or even slightly cheaper than the average cost for a college student, although it varies by institution. 

Like a lot of students, I went to Amazon to look for cheaper versions, but the price of textbooks and supplies on the site still adds up each semester. And, even if we (the students) resell our textbooks, very little of the initial cost comes back to us. 

The Davidson College Store and other companies who buy back textbooks often do so at a significantly lower price than students originally pay.

The price of textbooks has ballooned over time, along with the other expenses that come with college. And, while there are sources of financial aid for textbooks as well as outside funding, because the price of school is already so high, the exponential increase in textbook prices has created a burden on a lot of students and their families. 

Students still have to take out loans at Davidson, and those loans are put towards the essentials first, like room and board. The result: students are sometimes forced to cut textbooks that we deem non-essential or take classes with cheaper books. 

This lack of affordable textbooks can hamper the colossal blessing of a college education, especially a fantastic Davidson one. 

Davidson can be better. We could have a system where the most commonly used and most expensive textbooks are available to check out to students for the semester for free. 

It’s certainly a lofty-sounding goal, but one that is needed and is in our hands to accomplish. 

We should identify the classes in STEM, Humanities, Arts, and other fields which frequently reuse their costly introductory textbooks and purchase them. 

We should pursue sources of funding both within Davidson and outside of it. The Dean of Student’s office and the Office of the President both have budgets that they can allocate to student needs. It may be possible to secure funding through the Activities Tax Council as well.  And we can work to secure funding from within Lula Bell’s. 

On top of that, it may be possible to work within the new Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant—which is dedicated to increasing inclusivity in STEM fields—to secure funding for STEM books specifically.    

Currently, at Lula Bell’s, you can check out a textbook for a fixed amount of time. This is great, but the limited checkout period makes it difficult to sustain over the course of the semester; this restriction exists because we typically don’t have multiple copies of textbooks. Multiple students, each in the same lab science or another class, often cannot all use Lula Bell’s books to study for a test. Even with our small class sizes, this poses a problem. 

If you can’t afford the textbooks for a class, you are less likely to take it. Students can be pushed out of classes which makes high cost, high reward fields even more difficult to enter.   

But with an expanded number of textbooks, we can offer more students textbooks and for a semester at a time. 

Imagine, if instead of going to the bookstore at the beginning of the semester, you could go to Lula Bell’s Resource Center and check out many of your textbooks for the entire semester. 

And, as long as you returned it in good condition, it wouldn’t cost you a thing. It would make Davidson more affordable for everyone. 

Emmitt Sklar ’21 is a Political Science major from Brooklyn, New York. Contact him at emsklar@davidson.edu.

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