MCSG proposes financial aid for textbooks

By Peter Wright

For many Macalester students, the shock of hearing the cost of a semester’s worth of textbooks is all too familiar, but a proposal by the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) is aimed at establishing a new scholarship to cover the cost, one part of a larger movement to address textbook costs on campus.MCSG President Alison Tray ’09 said that the MCSG proposal would direct $15,000 from Macalester’s ongoing capital campaign to 25 students who qualify based on financial need. She said that each recipient of the scholarship would be given $600 per year. The awards would be funded by money already marked for financial aid, and would be controlled by the financial aid office.

Because it would be based on capital campaign funds, the plan still needs to be approved by campaign organizers and donors. For now, Tray said that she has been getting positive reactions from some campaign organizers and officials in Financial Aid.

“While only 25 of 1850 or so would receive this support, it’s still 25 more students that can get their textbooks on time.And thus, it’s a small step in the right direction,” Tray said.

Tray, a mentor to first-years, said that she first became aware of a need for textbook help when some of her mentees couldn’t afford their books. She cited one person who went to a chemistry class for several weeks without a way to study because he had to find enough resources to buy a single textbook.

“In this economy everyone is having a hard time, whether fundraising, finding a job or paying tuition,” Tray said. “Textbooks are costs that can be unexpected.”

Michael Manansala ’12 is a co-leader for the affordable higher education task force in Macalester’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG). He said that Macalester’s current textbook aid policy isn’t good enough because it includes the cost in the overall financial aid package, deducting an estimated cost from tuition and housing costs based on need.

“Tuition is not visible to students, and usually it’s Mom and Dad who’s paying for it,” he said. “When students pay for textbooks it comes right out of their pocket.”

The MPIRG task force, like the MCSG, is working towards increasing access to textbooks. MPIRG is hoping to institute a library lending program, and Tray said that the MCSG wants to find ways to improve the current reserve system.

“Basically MCSG and MPIRG have the same idea,” Manansala said.

In addition to a lending program, Manansala said that he wants to raise the profile of MacSwap, a website designed to connect Macalester students wanting to buy textbooks to other students who are selling them. The site was started several years ago, but has been severely underused since then, he said.

Manansala said that a workable solution to the cost of textbooks would come from a combination of the lending programs, increased student communication and the scholarship.

“Trying to tackle this in a very holistic way is the best way,” he said.