Textbooks at Bucks: Hidden Fee or Free?


Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Grace Levy

The long summer days gone, the start of the fall 2022 semester began with many students reading their course syllabuses and seeing if they had to pay for textbooks. Textbooks continue to be a source of controversy in academics, with some citing textbooks as a financial strain for students; some do not see the necessity of buying a textbook for a single semester; while others see textbooks as a lifelong investment in their education.

Michelle Palella, aged 18, a Health Sciences major, enjoys the additional resources of paid textbooks. Michelle dislikes that free textbooks “don’t have the quizzes or practice pages that paid textbooks include.”

“I would love it if all of my classes had free textbooks because the quality of the free books is on par or superior to paid ones,” says Jeff Guimaraes, aged 20, a first year Communications Studies major. “They’re also much easier to consult and access.”

Bucks currently offers free textbooks through its Open Education Resources (OER) program, which provides students with online textbooks that are free. The Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Initiative at Bucks allows students to select courses that use OER textbooks, including 23 courses that purposefully have redesigned their content to include OER textbooks.

OpenStax, one of the OERs that Bucks uses, is a website that contains over 40 different textbooks that are free for students, faculty, and colleges to use. OpenStax continues to work on its accessibility to fit the needs of all students, no matter their location in the world.

It is not only the cost of textbooks, however, that could preclude many from a college education. The College Board reported in “Trends in College Pricing & Student Aid” that in the 2021-2022 academic school year “first-time full-time students at public two-year college(s)” needed approximately “$5,700 in allowances for books and supplies; transportation; and other personal expenses.” Additionally, national data collected by the College Board revealed that the average tuition and fees of two-year colleges have increased by almost $1,500 in the last 20 years, making college the most expensive it’s ever been.

Introduced to Congress in 2019, the Affordable College Textbook Act was a bill that would grant more funding to higher education institutions and allow expansion on free textbooks, providing more accessibility to students. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives, and it was referred to the Committee on Health, Educations, Labor, and Pensions, where little action has resulted since then.

Paid textbooks at Bucks range in cost from as little as $30 to as much as $200. Students can choose from new and used textbooks, or they can rent their textbooks. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of textbooks is “an estimated $105.37” per book. Additionally, with every new edition that is released, the average cost increases by 12 percent.

“It is really hard when you find out you have to spend an extra $240 on science fees just to do homework,” says Luisa Correa, aged 21, a Biology major. “Especially when you have already paid so much for tuition. I have to consider each semester how many classes I can take because I know at some point, I just won’t be able to afford all the textbooks.”