As first semester comes to a close, many students are beginning to budget for their second-semester textbooks. On top of student fees, housing and one of the highest tuition rates in the Maritimes, textbooks can be a financial burden on students, especially those relying on student loans and financial aid.
According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the average university student spends between $800 and $1,000 per year on textbooks.
To combat high prices charged by university bookstores, Enactus Mount Allison has created a new Textbook Osmosis online store to sell used books at 40 per cent of the bookstore rate.
According to Tom Hammond, a fourth-year economics student and the coordinator of Textbook Osmosis, the online store was originally designed to give donated textbooks to inmates at local prisons or to language centres that volunteer with refugees. Due to communication issues and a major influx of textbook donations, Textbook Osmosis had over 2,000 books in storage without a designated purpose.
This past semester, Textbook Osmosis launched a used textbook pop-up shop and online store to connect students with used copies of course readings.
Hammond said it is important to provide low-income students with multiple options to purchase used textbooks.
“The bookstore charges a ridiculous price. There have been a couple of courses where my learning outcomes have been compromised because I couldn’t afford the book,” he said.
Due to a non-compete agreement that the campus bookstore has with Mt. A, Textbook Osmosis will not be able to host future pop-up shops on campus, but they still plan on maintaining their online store for the coming semester.
Some students have found other venues to purchase textbooks outside of the campus bookstore.
Laren Bedgood, a first-year student from a low-income background, found all of her textbooks for this semester on two Mt. A Facebook pages, Textbook Exchange and Textbooks Mt. A.
“I don’t know how I could’ve afforded to pay for my textbooks if I hadn’t found them on [the Facebook pages] because they were still expensive,” she said. “I still spent $360 for something I’m going to use for three months.”
Bedgood said that many first-year students are not aware of the cost of textbooks before coming to university, and many students may not budget for this when applying for student loans.
“I wish that professors would be more explicit with how in-depth they’re going to cover the textbook to see if the purchase is actually that valuable,” she said.
Bedgood expressed frustration at textbooks with an online component that require the purchase of a new textbook to be activated, such as the textbooks for introductory economics and their accompanying MyEconLab and psychology courses with MyPsychLab.
Hammond, a teaching assistant in the economics department, described MyEconLab as “a fundamental part of the course” in terms of helping students understand course material.
While most students across class backgrounds complain about the price of textbooks, for some low-income students, it is a question of buying textbooks or buying food.
According to Sally Faulkner, a low-income student studying environmental science and biology, textbooks are inaccessible to those relying on student loans and bursaries for school.
“I spent money that I would’ve spent on my well-being on textbooks that I then can’t return for nearly the same amount of money,” she said. “I would never ask my parents to give me money for a textbook because I want them to buy food or pay a bill. Textbooks seem petty but it’s such a burden [on low-income students].”
In addition to purchasing used textbooks from Textbook Osmosis or the Facebook pages, students also borrow from professors or the library, buy books on Amazon, and download online PDFs from pirating websites. Some professors also offer some or all of their course readings on Moodle.