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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Textbook program update leaves persistent questions

Graphic+by+Zander+Leong+26.
Graphic by Zander Leong ’26.

On Nov. 29, Vice President of Administration and Finance Patricia Langer sent an email to the Macalester community, formally announcing information that has spread throughout the campus community in the past few months: Macalester will be partnering with Barnes & Noble College (B&NC) to implement the Inclusive Access Course Materials Program.

Macalester signed the contract as a result of changes in the textbook distribution industry, according to the email. The inclusive access model is the only way for Macalester to maintain a comprehensive supply of textbooks without changing vendors, Langer stated in the email.

Langer included a Q&A document for questions students may have about the contract. The document responded to questions about potential costs, possibilities to opt out and the contract’s effect on other textbook programs at Macalester.

“Students will have the option to opt out of this program,” Langer wrote in her announcement. “Students who opt out of the program will continue to have access to course materials at our bookstore at full walk-up retail pricing, as they do now.”

Students wishing to opt out should note that the program automatically enrolls students, and they must specifically select to opt out. Currently, there are no specific instructions on how to opt out.

Langer also expressed that administration has not yet set fees for the new program, though fees will be included in the cost of tuition each semester. As a reference, she mentioned that two schools in Macalester’s 40 school peer college database, Swarthmore College and Haverford College, charged $395 and $320 per semester respectively.

As students await details about exact pricing, many are wondering whether this program — which has been presented as an opportunity to expand institutional equity — will end up increasing their cost of attendance, should they choose to participate in it. 

“We are sensitive to the issue that the new textbook model would raise each semester’s tuition bill and that this could be a big challenge for some of our highest-need students,” Assistant Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Brian Lindeman ’89 wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “But we have not yet decided precisely how we’ll respond to that challenge.”

In his email, Lindeman continued to explain that it is currently unclear whether students demonstrating highest financial need will have the cost of this program fully covered through financial aid. However, students will learn these details, at the latest, when they receive their financial eligibility notifications. Students who submit their financial aid applications before the priority-filing deadline in May will receive their notification in June 2024, Lindeman explained.

Senior class representative and Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Ellen Patrickson ’24 encourages students to individually consider if this program can provide a more affordable means of accessing course materials before deciding to opt out or not. 

“Personally, I haven’t paid more than $100 per semester for textbooks,” Patrickson said. “ In the examples that we were given from Patricia Langer of peer institutions [listing] what this program costs there, [the cost] has been about $300 per semester. On a personal level, I will choose to opt out because the cost is greater than what I have experienced previously. I think the earlier you start planning and making a decision, the more you can save.”

Patrickson shared that AAC currently plans to continue funding the Course Reserve Program for semesters to come, though they are considering diverting some funds to promote the spread of Open Educational Resources (OERS) if the program’s usage decreases in the future.

In her email, Langer indicated that students will continue to have access to the Highlander bookstore, though textbooks will be sold at full retail prices, and the Course Reserve Program, a partnership between the library and Macalester College Student Government (MCSG). Founded in 2009, MCSG currently allocates $10,000 of their annual budget to purchasing course materials for students to check out, free of cost. 

AAC member and library service desk manager, Luke Evans ’26 shared his views on what this program may mean for the course reserve program, and the library in general.  

“I think that once you kind of start chipping away at the services that the library might provide, that might set into a trend of devaluing the library as an institution,” Evans said. “When organizations start to devalue libraries, I think that they’re setting down a path of not valuing education.”

In her email, Langer cited the Financial Barriers Working Group’s feedback, identifying the affordability of course materials as one of the largest barriers to institutional equity. Evans criticized the administration’s use of the input from the Financial Barriers Working Group, which was established in 2020, as outdated. 

“If they’re basing their current decisions for the 2024-25 school year off of a working group from before or during the pandemic, it seems to me like that’s not the right way to do it,” Evans said. “They didn’t consult the Academic Affairs Committee … we’re supposed to be the ones that they should consult about huge academic changes like this.”

There are also some concerns about how faculty may adapt to the new course materials program. Because there will be new, earlier deadlines for course materials, professors will have less time to plan their required course materials. In her email to the student body, Langer stated that the deadline for course material decisions is April 1, 2024 for the fall 2024 semester and Oct. 1, 2024 for the 2025 spring semester. 

Through the Course Reserve Program, students and faculty alike can request additional course materials for the reserve at any point during the semester. Requests for the fall semester open by the third week of March and requests for the spring semester open by the first week of November each academic year.

Some students are concerned that professors may not fully understand the implication of placing a book under the list of required course materials. 

“This is a big change for faculty, too,” Patrickson said. “We want to make sure that faculty fully understands this. For example, if you have one course where a professor wants to read one chapter from 10 different books, we don’t want them to register all of those books as required materials because then we’ll be charged as a whole student body for all of those books. That shouldn’t be necessary; those [resources] should come via the library and such.”

Langer’s email notes that students are able to purchase the rented materials accessed through this program after the end of the semester for an additional fee.

“People don’t actually get to keep the … textbooks or materials that they are paying for.” Evans cautioned. “So if you get that $400 charge a semester on your student account, they say you have all your full … access to all these things that we’re gonna provide through the bookstore. With the catch [that] you have to give that stuff back.”

As new information continues to be released about this program, Patrickson hopes that this program will adhere to its advertised goals. 

“I’m happy that Macalester is putting in an effort to increase equity,” Patrickson said. “I agree that textbook costs and course materials costs can definitely be a barrier, and I’ve experienced them as a barrier before too. The general sentiment of increasing equity by decreasing these barriers I agree with; I don’t know if this is the right path forward.”

 

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Cal Martinez, News Editor
Cal Martinez '26 (they/them) is one of the news editors and an English major from metro Detroit, Michigan. Their best friend in high school, who happened to be their English teacher, introduced them to journalism and annotating poetry with fancy highlighters, and their sleep schedule has never been the same since.

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