Editorial: TCU should create more initiatives like Textbook Exchange

Amidst talk of tuition hikes and increased housing costs, it’s refreshing to finally see a headline about saving students money. The TCU Senate’s Textbook Exchange, which took place from Sept. 4–12 saved students an estimated $30,000 in total. The event will hopefully be the first of many events geared toward saving students money.

Philip Miller, TCU senate education committee chair, originally proposed the idea of a textbook-purchasing platform other than the bookstore and Amazon.

I was hoping to save Tufts students money,” Miller told the Daily in an email. “On top of that, students on financial aid, as of now, do not have [another] source to get their textbooks from (other than the Tisch textbook reserve) without paying excessive prices.”

Following the success of the event, Miller is already brainstorming ways to reform and expand it. “Right now, everyone who works the exchange, codes the UI, or manages the data is unpaid,” he told the Daily in an email. “Ideally we will find some way to pay students for the time they put in.” Additionally, Miller wants to streamline the process and enhance the physical shopping experience. 

Despite the success of the TCU Textbook Exchange this year, and the improvements the Senate wants to make, the initiative is met with multifaceted challenges. Due to complexities concerning class material, the rise of affordable alternatives, and university contracts with official book suppliers, TCU needs to respond with creative reform to expand the initiative.

One main problem is that course material may change annually. Publishers constantly release new editions of essential course textbooks to prevent programs like the Textbook Exchange from harming their profits. Recently, professors of introductory classes — e.g. language and economics — have also been opting to teach students through these publishers’ online platforms because of their effectiveness in tracking students’ academic progress. This change is in line with the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering expanding approval of credited massive open online courses (MOOCs) in 2014. Students purchase membership and access to such platforms and courses through websites, which usually include online textbooks as well, and such memberships are almost always personalized for a specific student and cannot be reused for the same course.

Amazon and other alternative platforms have posed as friendly competitors to the Textbook Exchange as well. Amazon’s services range from Prime Student, a two-day shipping service, to Kindle online textbooks and textbook rentals, which allow a student to borrow a book for 150 days. Barnes & Noble, Chegg and Bookbyte also allow for price comparison, flexible rent options, and even highlighting on some pages. These companies understand that most students don’t have an incentive to keep their textbooks over selling or renting them. Students tend to use these platforms not only because of the services they provide, but also because they are unsure whether textbooks listed on the syllabi for their courses are actually required, and whether they will stay in their courses for the entire semester. It is therefore important for the Textbook Exchange to communicate its benefits to students and open its supplies early in the semester.

These are significant challenges for the Textbook Exchange, which relies on a consistent curriculum to maintain its pool of textbooks. Because of the obstacles this specific event faces, TCU Senate should continue to implement similarly oriented initiatives. TCU Senate’s success in implementing the Book It Forward initiative with the Tufts University Social Collective (TUSC) and Tisch Library’s piloting of a new textbook reserve system in collaboration with the Office for Student Success and Advising show how cooperation between institutions can help achieve the goal of reducing financial burdens for students.

The Textbook Exchange could further benefit by sharing online material through its Facebook platform, by introducing a rental service or by extending its open periods. Whatever means it does end up using to enhance its quality, Tufts Textbook Exchange should be an example to other initiatives, with hopes of saving the Tufts community money wherever possible. 

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