Feb 24, 2021 - News

COVID's effect on textbook accessibility

Illustration of a backpack with an open lock coming out of the top

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For vulnerable students, the pandemic has worsened the problem of textbook access, according to a report released by Student Public Interest Research Groups.

The problem: With remote schooling, it's much harder to borrow someone's textbook or get a used book for cheap, forcing students to pay for access codes just to do their homework.

By the numbers: A survey of more than 5,000 students at 82 colleges and universities reveals COVID's devastating effects on students’ ability to fully participate in class.

  • 65% of students reported skipping a textbook purchase this fall, even though 90%were worried it would impact their grades.
  • 79% of students said COVID impacted their ability to meet basic needs. Those who lost jobs were significantly more likely to skip buying textbooks or access codes.

Zoom in: Eckerd College freshman Sanaa Ali told Axios she had to go without all her books for the better part of her first semester. And even after she paid for the access code to her calculus class, she lost access as soon as exams were over. So, to keep learning, she had to buy another book.

  • "Higher education costs are already so high without the added burden of access codes that expire after just one term," she said.

The big picture: Dan Xie, the St. Petersburg-based political director of Student PIRGs, said publishers are taking advantage of vulnerable students during the pandemic — but argues universities and state legislators can stop it.

  • Xie points to open textbook programs, already incentivized in California and Massachusetts, where professors can choose a free, peer-reviewed textbook online.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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