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Editorial: Troubling textbook costs

The arrival of each new semester brings with it a multitude of great opportunities: the opportunity to join interesting new clubs, the opportunity to not fall behind on your classwork this time, the opportunity to catch up with old friends and, of course, the opportunity to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks. For most students, one of these prospects is not quite as exciting as the rest. But it is the most inevitable.

As previously reported by The Herald, the exorbitant cost of textbooks, as well as other course materials, is one of the biggest financial challenges Brown students face. While it’s true that there are many common methods of bypassing the high prices, these methods are not always possible to employ. Oftentimes, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, new editions of textbooks are published annually, and each new edition contains different questions than previous versions. This means students are required to rent or purchase new books, as opposed to used ones, in order to complete assigned problem sets properly. And with academic software becoming more and more prevalent, sites like “MasteringBiology,” which requires each student to submit answers through an individual login, make splitting the cost of site memberships among classmates impossible.

Another source of frustration is that the acquisition of these course materials is often mandatory in order to complete homework during shopping period, during which many students are still unsure of the classes they will be taking in the upcoming semester. Though some professors do make materials for the first couple weeks of courses accessible for free, either via e-mail, Canvas, or in-class handouts, most do not, and there is no requirement that they do. In those cases, students are frequently stuck paying for textbooks they don’t end up using and then selling them to other students for a much lower price than they initially paid.

What makes this situation even more irritating is the fact that copies of textbooks found at the Brown Bookstore are usually more expensive than those found online. We wish that the University would aim to help its students access the materials they need rather than work against them. Especially with the recently announced tuition increase, students already put so much money into funding their Brown education that many find it difficult to come up with the hundreds of dollars required to purchase textbooks. The University makes many resources available to students for cheaper than they would find anywhere else; why do textbooks not receive the same treatment from the Brown-operated bookstore?

There are many students and alums who would be quick to call the Brown experience “priceless.” But while the memories made and knowledge gained here may be extraordinary, they certainly come with a price. With the already-astronomical tuition price continuing to climb and the additional costs for each course adding to the financial burden, too many students are forced to focus more on how to afford college than on how to make the most of their time here. Every single person who attends this school deserves the high-quality education they were promised when they enrolled. Our academic success should not be jeopardized by our economic status. But unfortunately, for now, it still is.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Emma Axelrod ’18 and Emma Jerzyk ’17, and its members, Eben Blake ’17, Aranshi Kumar ’17 and Leeron Lempel ’19. Send comments to


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