College Affordability

This is going to be a very short post, as I want to publish it but just don’t have the time right now to flesh it all out…maybe at some point in the near future.

So, lately there’s been a lot of talk about college affordability, and even loan forgiveness for student debt, of which I’m very supportive. Again, more nuance on some of that in the future…

The main reason I’m writing this in haste is because a concrete case of a student nearly failing a class because the student did not have the money or resources (or family background and support) to be able to obtain access to the required course ‘platform’–a platform that my college mandates for one of the required general education classes.

Access to the platform (not a book you can resell or even keep access to into the future) is $120. The course tuition is less than $600 for in-state students (which almost all are–it’s a community college).

Generally, if I can, I create my own materials that are completely free to students (all electronic, downloadable). Not only am I an expert in my field, but I believe it’s my job as an educator at the college level to know my subject-matter and how to deliver it well enough to be able to create my own materials. Further, the number of errors and downright incorrect information in professionally edited and published texts by the many for-profit publishers is….DISGUSTING.

What makes it worse is that they charge my students for this truly crappy material. I might be more forgiving if it were all some new method, new tech, new material in its first edition. Sadly, however, it is usually several editions in, riddled with errors. And the materials/books don’t come cheap, some as much as a third or more of the course tuition.

Even more concerning is the trend towards renting physical books or selling access to electronic materials or a ‘platform’–as in this particular case. That $120 access fee from the case above is for ONE semester–granted, this publisher says you get ‘unlimited’ access (not in time, but in number of courses during that one semester)–but that only works if the student is taking more than one course that uses that particular publisher’s platform. That doesn’t tend to happen a whole lot. I’m certainly not confident it would be a good idea generally to give even more of a ‘monopoly’ to publishers in this way.

Bottom line–students, especially the kinds of students I teach, do not all come from families with means and cannot afford NOT to get a decent education. Indeed, our society cannot afford to have masses of uneducated citizens–our economy and political system both depend heavily on an educated citizenry.

In order for access to become a reality without drowning levels of debt (that also is from personal experience–law school, grad school), a lot has to change. One ‘simple’ change would be to move towards open source materials and texts for well-established subjects, even in the tech field (in which I teach). Platforms like Wikipedia demonstrate that reasonably good information can be compiled and made accessible to anyone with an internet connection for a relatively small operating cost (that is, it does not require the motivation of profit in the form of a company).

Thanks for reading my soap-box rant–let me know if you have any suggestions. I’m all ears, at least virtually. 🙂

EDIT/UPDATE:

Just to be clear, so that this rant is not dismissed as being from a “communist, socialist, ivory tower academic at a prestigious school, educated at expensive schools and universities”…I

  • Attended a public elementary and high school in Alabama
  • Attended a public four-year undergrad (Univ. of Ala. at Birmingham) on full scholarship in chemistry–did not change majors so as to retain funding, even though I found out chemistry wasn’t exactly my calling
  • Attended the US News “best value” law school in the US–Univ. of Alabama School of Law (in-state at the time)
  • Attended Virginia public George Mason University for my Master’s in Software Engineering
  • Teach at the second-largest public community college in the United States–Northern Virginia Community College

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