By Katie Wagman

This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

For millions of college students like me, it is a rite of passage to shop around for textbooks at the beginning of every semester. As the cost of college textbooks has skyrocketed over the last two decades, many students have chosen to borrow, rent, or buy used textbooks. And many faculty have chosen to assign openly licensed materials that don’t cost students a dime.

But in recent years, “inclusive access” automatic textbook billing programs have been robbing students of their freedom to shop around and find free or lower-cost course materials. Although these programs are framed as reducing costs for students, they actually reduce our choices by automatically billing for digital course materials as part of tuition and fees, even if we could find the materials elsewhere at a lower price, or even for free. This leads to hidden fees, surprise charges, and less control over our money, including our critical student aid dollars.

As a first-generation college student who relies on federal student aid, I know from experience that every textbook expense that’s tacked onto my tuition bill siphons aid money that I could be using for essentials such as food and housing. What’s worse is that the publisher packaged the book with access to the online homework system, so I couldn’t even opt out. Rather than saving a bunch of money online, I had to let them funnel $100 of my student aid straight into the coffers of profit-hungry textbook companies just so I could turn in my homework.

To continue reading, please visit The Hill. 

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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