Textbook subsidy plan invites continued conversation, alternatives

By Staff

Like any first try, the plan to apply tuition dollars and financial aid grant revenue to subsidize textbook costs recently presented by Mathematics professor Daniel Kaplan and Academic Affairs Commission Chair Alison Tray ’09 to the Macalester College Student Government Legislative Body is far from flawless. Still, we applaud the proposal as a valiant effort to address an important and often frustrating issue.Kaplan and Tray’s plan calls for students who do not receive financial aid to pay about $500 more in tuition for each academic year. Corresponding to the tuition increase, the school would deduct 65 percent from the $900 some students on financial aid receive annually to cover supplies and textbooks. But while the concept of decreasing textbook costs is simple, the methods proposed to accomplish this goal are not.

As Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said, the plan will have “a positive outcome if it raises discussion to bring out other ideas to be more fully formed.”

We could not agree more that this discussion is an extremely worthy one, which demands a deep level of consideration. At the same time, there are many conditions, and potential contradictions, to the proposal. Here is one that crossed our minds:

As students progress through their years at Macalester, most learn that they can find ways to access books other than through Macalester’s bookstore. There is a give and take inherent in this proposal, with the intention that, in the end, all will benefit. But what about the students who do not buy the majority of their books from the bookstore-how will they explain to their parents the $500 increase to their already hefty tuition? And how will all students’ indidivudal cases be taken into account?

It’s also difficult to believe that the school can only find funds to subsidize books through a tuition increase. We implore administrators to explore other financial options and to consider dividing the financial responsibility between various sources, including alumni donations and the school’s endowment. After all, providing students with equal access to educational materials is something all involved parties should work toward, not just students and their families.

We recognize that this proposal might see various phases before it is finalized and voted on. In the meantime, we encourage both administrators and professors to further this discussion and also to advocate alternative methods through which students will have complete access to textbooks. After all, it is all about the students. Right?