Last week, the Student Association (SA) passed a resolution asking Binghamton University to address rising technology-related costs to students.
In recent years, educational publishers like McGraw Hill Education and Pearson have shifted focus to digital learning programs. Students must purchase these programs in order to complete homework, participate in discussion boards as well as read textbooks. These programs often vary from course to course, creating what can be a complicated and expensive process for some students.
The SA proposal includes two major points of emphasis for the University to combat this issue — transparency surrounding technology-related costs and leveraging bulk buying power to reduce these costs.
The author of the proposal is Samil Levin, a sophomore majoring in economics. He identified the problem after speaking with fellow students and members of the SA.
“After talking to some of [my friends] — many who are in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)] — I learned how much they were spending on technology costs,” Levin wrote in an email. “Once I began talking about the issue within the SA Congress, I realized that many SA representatives also experienced the same issue. With this resolution, we wanted to bring a realistic proposal to the administration to solve the problem.”
Levin noted that, unlike traditional textbooks, costs from digital learning programs are hard to reduce because of their connection with the specific content of a course.
“With textbooks, there are cheaper options like used or loose-leaf versions that can lower costs,” Levin wrote. “Nothing like that exists for [digital learning] programs and other technology costs. With programs, on the other hand, programs have to be legitimate for them to work with the class. That’s why this issue has become so concerning because these are costs you cannot reduce in some way.”
Levin said he believes that, with proper commitment from the University, both main action items on the SA’s resolution can be addressed in a timely manner.
“I would love to see technology-related fees listed with course descriptions on BU Brain in summer 2022/fall 2022,” Levin wrote. “Unfortunately, it is too late for spring 2022 but it is entirely possible to be done before fall registration. The pilot program [for bulk purchasing] would probably take more time but, with persistence from the University, it could be done within the next year. Ideally, it could be done for fall 2022 but realistically we could see it in spring 2023.”
According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, the University is actively aware of the problem. Over email, he outlined current efforts in place by faculty to reduce the cost burden of required materials to their students.
“The University is sensitive to the cost of books and other materials (including technology) that students are required to purchase for their classes,” Yarosh wrote. “Our faculty takes the cost of books and other materials into account in deciding which materials to require. They also place books and materials on reserve, where possible, to enable students to access materials without purchasing them. They also use reading material from the public domain to the full extent possible and provide access through Brightspace to reduce costs.”
Yarosh also stressed the University’s commitment to provide more transparency surrounding technology-related costs to students before they sign up for classes.
“The SA E-Board [has] made us aware of the [SA] Congress resolution,” Yarosh wrote. “The [Office] of Academic Affairs will be working with the deans and faculty leadership to ensure that students know what expenses they will incur for supplementary technology in advance, so that cost can inform their decision to join a class.”
Some students agreed with the SA that digital learning programs are expensive and can be difficult to navigate.
Dylan Contreras, an undeclared freshman, said he never even thought about paying for textbooks until he arrived at BU.
“In my first week of college, I was forced to spend hundreds on online textbooks,” Contreras wrote. “It was very frustrating to deal with. I would want the school to purchase [a] bulk order of textbooks for the students.”
Adi Kombiyil, a sophomore majoring in economics, has noticed the cost burden of classes seems to be increasing.
“More and more classes are requiring additional fees, [with programs] like iClicker that are required,” Kombiyil said. “All of the costs add up class by class and [establishing] an open dialogue with companies to pursue bulk discounts will help students that struggle to keep up with all the different costs.”
Shea Butler, a sophomore majoring in business administration, believes that added technology-related costs impose an unfair burden on students and their families.
“I think funding a college education alone is a difficult task for most families [and students] as far as money goes,” Butler wrote. “We shouldn’t have to be stressing over being able to come up with money for the cost of technology. With that being said, there’s no reason that the University can’t make deals with these massive textbook companies to lower the costs and make them more reasonable.”