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Students Praise Q Guide Questions on Textbook Prices

Students praised the Committee on Undergraduate Education’s decision to include two questions about the cost of course materials in this spring’s Q Guide.
Students praised the Committee on Undergraduate Education’s decision to include two questions about the cost of course materials in this spring’s Q Guide. By Darrell Y. Huang
By Edith M. Herwitz, Crimson Staff Writer

Concerned with the rising price of textbooks, some students praised the Committee on Undergraduate Education’s move to include questions on the cost of course materials in this spring’s Q evaluations.

Earlier this month, the CUE discussed two new questions that will appear on this semester’s Q Guide, the College’s course and instructor evaluation system. One question will ask students how much they spent for each class, and the other for more details on the process of purchasing the materials.

“The goal is to find out more about course costs,” Elisabeth L. Laskin, assistant dean of Undergraduate Education, said at the CUE meeting earlier this month. “People talk about it a lot, but we don’t have any data to base it on. This is a way to start gathering this kind of data.”

The CUE has not yet decided whether the information collected from the questions will be available in future Q Guides. Still, some students, including Grace K. Carney ’19, said they were looking forward to the change.

“I think it’s a really good idea. Syllabi often don’t include the prices of textbooks, so this would make the whole process of buying book more transparent then it is now,” Carney said.

Undergraduate Council President Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18, who campaigned on a platform partly to make textbooks more affordable, said the Q Guide questions would be “one step forward” in a longer initiative to reduce the price of course materials.

“I am so pleased this is finally happening,” Sachee said. “I hate to see textbook costs as sometimes an inhibition for students when considering what courses they will take.”

Praising the new questions, Catherine J. Qin ’17 pointed a controversial $132 code students in an introductory economics course were required to purchase as an example of expensive course material prices. N. Gregory Mankiw, the course’s professor and textbook’s author, defended the new system’s price tag last semester and said he had negotiated with the publisher to obtain a lower price for Harvard students.

Other students, including Natasha M. Gonzalez ’20, said they thought including information on the price of materials in the Q Guide could impact how students decide which courses to take.

“Textbooks are really expensive, so knowing going into the course you’d have to spend so much money would be really helpful,” Gonzalez said. “Especially if you’re on the fence about a course, you could pick a less expensive course.”

Echoing Gonzalez, Christina H. Cruz ’20 said she had “mixed feelings” about the questions, which she said could dissuade students from taking classes with more expensive materials.

“It’s awesome because people get to know about it. I also feel like that would deter some students from taking classes they would otherwise take,” Cruz said. “As long as Harvard is good about providing financial aid it’s a great addition.”

Earlier this month, University President Drew G. Faust told members of the Undergraduate Council that she will ask Dean of the Faculty Michael D. Smith to address the cost of course materials at the Faculty's meeting in March.

—Staff writer Edith M. Herwitz can be reached at edith.herwitz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @edith_herwitz.

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