Instructors should mind material costs: Editorial

The George Brown Campus Bookstore. Photo: Dora Liu/The Dialog

The George Brown Campus Bookstore has far more books than students have money. Photo: Dora Liu/The Dialog

It’s no news to anyone that a college education is expensive. Tuition is enough of a struggle for most of us, but when we throw in material costs on top of it, we face a real financial challenge.

Many instructors are in tune with the reality of student budgets and make a concerted effort to ease the financial strain. However, a surprising number of them have fallen out of touch with our limitations and need to be reminded to keep us in mind.

Textbooks are notoriously expensive, often to the point of being laughable.

Despite the financial burden, courses continue to require texts when the capabilities of new technology and alternative sources of material allow for other, more affordable options to be explored.

This isn’t to say that textbooks are completely unnecessary, because for some courses they are a central component.

However, the large number of courses that do require traditional texts seem to be a sign of a mindset among faculty that is decidedly set in the past and out of touch with the needs of students.

As if it’s not enough that the basic costs of the texts are unfair, students are routinely issued lists of required texts that are barely touched by the instructor. It’s not uncommon for some texts to remain unopened for the duration of the course.

The stereotype of the fresh-faced, first-year student, naive enough to actually buy the required texts right away has become a go-to joke because students in upper years know from experience that they are often wasting their effort and money on a text that will never be used and is almost worthless to resell.

Instructors need to vet their own booklists more rigorously to ensure that if a student purchases a book for their course, they’ll be making significant use of it as a core course component.

It’s easy to forget what it was like to be a student and live on such a restricted budget, and it may be nearly impossible for all instructors to relate our experience in a post-recession economy to their own student memories.

Students must make a point to remind them that they need to mind their expenditures on course materials. They must not be afraid to ask questions about why certain materials are required and whether alternatives are possible when their cost becomes too great. We shouldn’t be afraid to remind them what our budgets can support.

It’s expected that students make school their primary priority while attending full-time, and in a general sense this is a fair expectation.

Professors need to understand that students require flexibility due to the needs of their employers, families, or children. For plenty of students, working more hours outside of school than are ideal for instructors, is a necessity that needs to be better acknowledged.

It’s true that certain material costs are non-negotiable requirements for good reason as they are the core course or program components, particularly where software is concerned.

In some programs, instructors require more expensive materials for the sake of teaching students how to do things up to the highest industry standard. This isn’t necessarily the problem.

The problem comes in when instructors don’t accommodate flexibility in regards to materials, and when they carelessly require pricey materials that will be used very little or neglected altogether.

Professors should also be receptive to suggestions of alternative materials whenever feasible. Students who demonstrate the ingenuity to complete a task by being resourceful with materials and clever in their substitution should be rewarded for their ability to think independently and problem-solve, not docked points for drawing outside the lines.

This editorial constitutes the official editorial position of The Dialog collective.

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Instructors should mind material costs: Editorial