Capitalism,capitalism, capitalism! I hear this word so often that I should have started saying it in my sleep by now. Every class I have taken at Lewis & Clark so far, and I am pretty sure every other one I will soon be taking, has touched on this topic and continues to tackle it whenever an opportunity arises. Capitalism just seems to be intertwined with every aspect of our lives for better or for worse, and there is no running away from it. It is almost as if the word has become an excuse for every other expense life hits us with. “Why is rent so high?” “Capitalism.” “Why are cars so expensive?” “Capitalism.” “Why is college so costly?” “Capitalism.” I have heard this last question in particular many times here at LC already. I mean, I get it, LC is a private liberal arts college; it ought to be costly. It ought to aim for profit maximization and cost minimization. That is just the way business (which, unfortunately, education has been reduced to) works. But there is a limit to everything, and I do not see how a college tuition so high cannot include the cost of books as well.
When we students have to carry the burden of high tuition during college and loans during adulthood, we would expect the simplest compensation on behalf of the college to be a minimal financial contribution. For example, schools should at least be able to cover book costs. Well, that does not seem to be the case at LC or at most colleges across the nation. Instead, students spend hours trying to look for the cheapest books to rent or buy. They hustle between book stores and websites in search for the best deals, even if that means using books half-torn, scribbled on or old and stained. Even when we go through with that, we still end up spending a big portion of the money we have one semester after another. In fact, according to the College Board, students spend an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies, an increase of 82% over the past decade.
Surely enough, these high costs inevitably affect our success as students. At times, to reduce book costs, many of us resort to illegally downloading PDF versions of books, which, as if not bad enough, could sometimes cause trouble for students who prefer paper books or are distracted by screens. Other times, students avoid buying books altogether. Indeed, a recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey found that 65% of students did not purchase a required textbook due to cost, and 94% were concerned that it would hurt their grade in class.
Luckily for us LC students, the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) is trying to offer book subsidies to as many students as possible. Still, I think this is nowhere near enough. There is only so much support one student body can provide. There are only so many books Watzek can lend. There are only so many slightly affordable alternatives to buying books. Institutional change needs to be considered and initiated. Tuition should cover books. Whether through a letter to the dean, or through a presentation before the school board, it is time for us to speak up.