A college education undeniably serves as a road to social mobility, but particularly in the landscape of COVID-19, expensive course materials are a roadblock. As students of the University of California system, which considers itself a proponent of educational equity, it is imperative that we take action to eliminate the obstacles that get in the way of accessible education.
The UC has already taken considerable and commendable steps to heighten accessibility by implementing open access journals. Now, it’s time for them to extend that accessibility to other course materials by implementing open textbooks, which are peer-reviewed and faculty written under an open license.
We need to do this as soon as possible. Recent reports by The Student PIRGs cite that 90% of students are concerned about the impact that not being able to buy a textbook might have on their grades.
Saving students’ money on textbooks would address a host of other issues, like unreliable access to the internet, food insecurity and mental health. Students need to have accessible textbooks that are available both online and offline, and open textbooks give students that opportunity.
Textbook prices also disproportionately affect transfer students from the UC, and this year showed an increase in the amount of transfer applicants. This entails a larger percentage of UC students who will be impacted by textbook prices.
Open textbooks at the UC are feasible and advantageous for both faculty and students. Successful open textbooks programs have already been carried out in Massachusetts and the California Community Colleges, and these programs have collectively saved students millions of dollars.
The campus community at UC Riverside has already taken laudable strides toward open textbooks. From open access resources at the UCR library to the prevalence of professors who choose to write their own textbooks, there is faculty and staff support behind this cause.
There is also astounding student support for the cause: CALPIRG Students’ Affordable Textbooks Campaign at UCR has garnered 825 petition signatures from students. Across the whole UC system, CALPIRG students across the state and the UC Students Association have also worked to pass a UC Students Association resolution in support of open textbooks.
Given this support along with the UC’s implementation of open journals, the addition of open textbooks is completely possible. Our next steps as students should be demonstrating overwhelming campus wide support for the cause to show the UC Regents that open textbooks are a priority. This will require further grassroots support from student petition signatures, testimonials, public comments and faculty sign-ons to show the UC Regents that faculty would use the grant if it were implemented.
If this support is constantly and consistently shown, we can get the UC to take the next step after open journals. In other words, we can get the UC to implement open textbooks and be champions of accessible education and social mobility.
The harsh reality is that the quality education that spurs social mobility is put behind a paywall. Students indisputably work hard to get to college, and once they’re there, they shouldn’t be locked out of the opportunity to perform well in class.
Inaccessible and expensive textbook prices are an accepted part of college life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We cannot normalize educational inequity. Textbook prices have posed a problem for decades, and this problem has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
We need to show the UC Regents that open textbooks are a priority for the UC. Implementing an open textbooks grant program saves students money, removing obstacles on the road to a better future.