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Expand the free rental of college textbooks

As a single mother to a newborn, I struggled. Every dollar counts. I needed to provide a stable and safe home for my son; And for me, that meant going to college.

Paying for expenses — rent, utilities, a car, food, child care — was hard enough, and adding the cost of college into the mix made it nearly impossible. Even though I went to community college first, and received some financial aid and scholarships, the costs are still increasing.

Just being able to pay my tuition when I was struggling to make ends meet was a huge relief, but college costs only start there.

I was nervous to read the syllabus of each class, not because of the rigor of the work it set, but because of the cost of the textbooks. I always worked one or two jobs, but it was never enough, so I would either delay the rent or utilities to pay for the books, or I would try not to use the textbooks.

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Out of desperation, I created a system. I will select one person from each class that I can count on to lend me his textbook. Then, as soon as I got my hands on the book, I would head to the library to make copies of the pages I needed. Not some of my best moments, and even the cost of copying was a burden.

Every bit of college is expensive, making it impossible for many. I went to college in the early 2000s, and it was expensive, but costs have increased dramatically since then. In 2021-22, estimated average costs range from $18,830 to over $55,000 per academic year for college students.

On average, two-year college students now spend more than $1,400 on books and study materials over the course of an academic year, according to the College Board.

A college employee recently told me that not going to campus can be the difference between a student staying in school or dropping out. This is also true for many of the costs of living while in college – books included. Textbooks can be very expensive, as can be the difference between a college student and a college dropout.

But that wouldn’t hold true for the thousands of students at the five colleges in the Alamo College District, at least for a short while. For the next two semesters, all students will be able to get free book rentals.

One of the most encouraging parts of this change is that it stemmed from listening to students and faculty.

In a December 1 press release about Barnes & Noble Education Inc.’s new free textbook rental initiative, The change came from faculty discussions and focus groups, said Mike Flores, president of the Alamo Colleges District.

This decision exemplifies Alamo Colleges District’s value of “students first,” its mission to “empower its diverse communities for success” and its vision to become “the nation’s best in student success and performance excellence.”

Instead of settling on the status quo, officials listened to the students and innovated.

To fund the Spring Summer 2022 textbook rental program, Alamo Colleges officials plan to invest up to $17 million in emergency relief fund grants for higher education.

The Alamo College District serves more than 100,000 students annually; 76 percent of people of color and 70 percent rely on financial aid and scholarships, according to the district.

“Our students often go without the textbooks they need to succeed due to financial hardship,” Flores said. “We know through faculty and focus group discussions with our students that many of them either go without textbooks while they are studying, or even have to take an extra shift to cover the cost of course materials.”

Now, more than ever, students need support.

Helping students succeed by providing the tools they need is what all colleges and universities must do. How do we make this change permanent for Alamo colleges and beyond?

Nancy Pryor Johnson @express-news.net

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