In recent years, colleges have begun experimenting with a number of techniques to make textbooks more affordable for, and more likely to be purchased by, college students. From on-demand textbook printing at the University of Michigan to on-campus and online textbook rental options nationwide, it seems like at least two or three textbook pricing revolutions roll out each year. This year, however, Williams College in Massachusetts is trying something entirely different: giving textbooks away for free.
Starting this fall, students who receive financial aid at Williams will be able to charge their textbooks to their bursar accounts--an option available to students at many colleges--and then will receive college-based grants for the amount of their textbook purchase, which as far as Williams officials know, is an offer unique to their campus. The textbook program, as well as the reasons for its inception, were highlighted in a recent blog post in the New York Times' college admissions blog, The Choice.
Williams previously offered financially needy students $400 book grants each semester, but found that some students still weren't buying all their required textbooks, as they felt the money they spent on books was still coming out of their own pockets. A textbook lending program through the library was used to supplement it, but there were concerns that students couldn't make full use of borrowed books. To allow students to highlight and annotate books, as well as reference them in subsequent semesters, the college decided to make sure students were able to purchase all required texts. Thus, the current grant program was born, which Williams officials expect to cost roughly the same as the combination of the previous grant and library lending programs but to serve students more completely and efficiently.
Little touches like free textbooks can go a long way towards swaying students still working on their college search. Regardless of the college you attend, you may want to factor textbooks into your scholarship search, as well. While textbooks don't seem like much individually, when the costs are added up, they can become a sizeable portion of a student's college costs. With many students paying for textbooks out-of-pocket, they can quickly create a problem with money management, increasing work burdens, credit card balances, or student loan debt.