UC Ed Committee Launches Initiative To Decrease Cost of Course Material

The Undergraduate Council's Education Committee is rallying behind an internal initiative to ease the burden on students paying for course materials by decreasing costs and eventually increasing the amount of free course material available on course websites.

The initiative was born out of UC Vice President Sietse K. Goffard’s ’15 campaign last November, according to UC Treasurer Meghamsh Kanuparthy, and, if passed, would have three parts.

The first of those parts would require instructors to list the expense of course materials on their syllabi. The committee will also design a system to indicate which courses have made efforts to decrease the cost of course materials so that students can factor this information into their decisions about classes. Finally, the initiative has the long-term goal of encouraging professors to upload free course materials online.

The initiative is intended to create a “more equal Harvard, where students can pursue the opportunities they would like,” Kanuparthy said.

According to Sally C. Donahue, director of financial aid, the Financial Aid Office currently estimates that on average, students spend $1340 per year on their textbooks and course material. This number, obtained from an annual FAO course materials survey, reflects the full-price of books at the Coop.

“The cost of course materials isn’t one of the immediate costs of Harvard that you think about,” Kanuparthy said. “But in the context of a student’s day-to-day life, it can play a big role.”

The initiative must first be proposed by a member of faculty and brought before the Faculty Council twice for it to be instituted in the FAS Handbook. Only when the initiative is later presented to the full Faculty, may a vote be taken.

Additionally, the committee hopes to partner with the Financial Aid Office, which releases a survey each year to determine the cost of books and other course materials. According to Donahue, the FAO will share their survey data with the Undergraduate Education Committee on Thursday to aid with their initiative.

Many students said that they agree the cost of course materials can present challenges to students. Bryan N. Poellot '17 said that last semester, he and his friend bought and resold math textbooks for less than their initial value in order to pay for their own textbooks, including one which cost $130.

For a lot of courses, you can go on Amazon and find your book cheap,” Poellot said. “But then there are some courses that don’t have this option and they don't have other ways to access materials, because they have course packs.”

In addition to pushing for the implementation of their course materials initiative, the committee hopes to follow though with other projects proposed last semester. These include the implementation of a mid-semester grade report, a new pass/fail deadline, and a mid-semester faculty evaluation.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

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