Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Recently, a friend sent me a petition calling on University of Maryland department heads and professors to be more transparent about how much their course materials will cost — before students enroll.
This seems like common sense; of course students should know exactly how much their education will cost, especially because those costs quickly start to add up.
In my experience, textbooks and online homework modules for a class can cost about $100. This semester, half my classes require textbooks or homework modules, which is about $400 in unexpected fees, not including lab fees. And with a project-based engineering course there’s another $50.
In total, this is hovering at $500 in unexpected fees. After speaking with my peers, it’s clear their experience with unexpected costs have been similar. For some students, that’s a large portion of a month’s rent, possibly utilities, too. It’s easy to see how these significant, unexpected expenses could be hard for some students to cover at the drop of a hat.
Not only are these expenses a financial burden, they can also affect a student’s ability to succeed in their classes. If my materials arrive late because I ordered them during the first week of class and needed to use them by the second week, I’m already falling behind. It doesn’t matter whether or not my professors reassure me it’ll be fine, I don’t want to feel I’m falling behind by the second week of the semester.
But this is predicated on my knowledge that my textbooks and materials are on their way. Students who can’t make a quick $500 payment and know their materials are not shipping don’t have a resolution to this anxiety. If this university committed to transparency about these costs, students would have more time to collect the necessary materials for them to succeed.
Students need to know how much materials cost because not all students have large disposable incomes. Five years ago, the median income for dependent college students was $3,900 while the median income for independent college students was $13,880. Those of us who can’t rely on parents or guardians to help foot the education bill see our meager incomes stretched thin to cover other costs such as rent, food and transportation.
Of course, applying for a student loan is an option, but it takes more than a week to prepare an application and actually receive the money. And with the state of the student debt crisis, the best option for students might be to not apply at all, especially if it’s just for $500. Providing students with the knowledge and time to accrue these expenses is the least this university can do to make students’ lives easier.
These fees may seem pretty insignificant to a well-funded university, but for students with few financial options, it could mean the difference between graduating and dropping out.
The great news is this is not a particularly hard issue to address. Syllabi usually have a list of required course materials in them. It’s just a simple copy-paste into Testudo, where students can see the cost of materials prior to enrolling in classes.
This would be critical in allowing students more flexibility when planning courses and their finances. They could choose to take classes without required materials or ones with fewer expenses. This would also give them the option to save up or obtain the money for required materials without the unreasonably short time constraint that currently exists.
Of course, situations arise and sometimes prices can change. There’s no way to prevent that, especially with the pandemic. However, giving a rough estimate to students is better than nothing — falling $20 short isn’t as catastrophic and stressful as an unexpected $500. This is an easy and obvious solution that could mean a world of difference to students.
Jessica Ye is a freshman government and politics and mechanical engineering major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.