This op-ed was originally published on eCampus News on June 13, 2018.
There is a pervasive villain that strikes at the very heart of higher education. Its wound is painless yet powerful; victims don’t even know their academic life has been crippled until it’s too late.
There has been much gnashing of teeth and angst about the rapid rise in cost of textbooks and course materials. Some statistics show an 80 percent increase in prices over a 10-year period, with students spending an average of $1,200 each year on hardcopy textbooks and supplies.
To help curb costs, a market of used and rental textbooks has emerged that offers titles at more reasonable prices. However, the used market has actually made the problem worse, forcing prices of new books to rise even higher because publishers can now only generate revenue on the initial sale of the first edition of each title.
Enter our pernicious villain, also known as “The Maze”: A confusing and complex course materials marketplace that ambushes students at the beginning of their freshman year.
Students are unknowingly ensnared in The Maze when they first stop into the college bookstore to collect required books prior to the start of classes. They may be shell-shocked by the prices, but feel they have no alternative but to purchase the materials.
By the second semester, the villain’s trap begins to work. Instead of going to the college store before classes start, students explore the larger textbook market. The options are seemingly endless – campus college store, local bookstore, Amazon, Chegg, publisher direct, innumerable online retailers, and more.
Many students opt to wait until after classes begin before deciding which materials to purchase. They miss assignments or force faculty to delay teaching more substantive subject matter. Now both professors and students are stymied by The Maze.
A study conducted by Wakefield Research confirms up to 80 percent of students admit to delaying or even avoiding purchasing textbooks and course materials altogether. Students who do eventually choose to purchase through the larger textbook marketplace may end up with the wrong books or materials that can only be accessed online — another devastating strike from The Maze.
Our research has shown that, in a class of 100 people, up to 40 students may be without any course materials whatsoever. The other 60 students could be using a variety of formats, including different and outdated editions of the materials, or materials that are not accessible and fail to accommodate special needs.
None of these students realize they are victims of The Maze, but they are doomed to suffer the consequences. According to the Wakefield study, of the students who admit to delaying or avoiding purchasing their course materials, more than half acknowledge their grades suffered as a result.
So how do we fight The Maze once and for all? The answer is simple: technology.
There’s never been a better opportunity to harness the power of technology to improve the student learning experience. A growing number of college campuses are embracing digital course materials and innovative programs like Inclusive Access to ensure students have the right eTextbooks and resources on the first day of class — all for a reasonable and competitive price.
Students deserve a straightforward and affordable path to access a quality education and earn a degree or credential. But until we defeat The Maze, thousands upon thousands of students will continue to fall victim to its deadly tricks.
At a time when our nation needs a talented workforce and educated citizenry more than ever before, the stakes are simply too high to allow The Maze to continue to triumph. Colleges and higher education leaders across America owe it to students to pursue commonsense technology solutions that can provide critical materials to students (and invaluable analytics and data insights to faculty) without breaking the bank.