In the past two weeks, I have finished a semester’s worth of homework for my American history class. I did not do it because I’m a huge history buff or a straight-up overachiever, but I did it because I couldn’t afford to do otherwise.
I completed all of my homework assignments ー which my teacher anticipated being about 3-6 hours worth of work per week ー during the course of a two-week free trial for the online homework, Connect McGraw-Hill. It would have cost me $84 to have access all semester.
On top of my many living expenses and college fees, I could not afford to spend another $84 for access to complete my homework. Online homework through subscription programs, like McGraw-Hill, limits students’ academic achievability and does not offer much more value toward a students’ education than its free counterparts.
For nearly every introductory class I’ve taken at Ole Miss ー biology, Italian, microeconomics, macroeconomics ー I’ve had to pay $70-$107 just to gain access to the homework. This cost does not include the cost of a textbook. Sure, scholarships exist, but not everyone gets them. Students could easily be expected to pay upwards of $500 for a semester of introductory classes, an overwhelming financial burden.
A U.S. Department of Education survey found that 20% of all credits earned by university students come from just 13 classes, including my general biology and introduction to economics courses. These classes are taught all over the U.S. and have been for decades, and there is no apparent reason we should be required to complete homework online when students have been succeeding in these classes long before the internet existed.
The National Association of College Stores found that the annual average cost of required course materials for a student has decreased from $701 to $415 between 2008 and 2019. This seems like a good trend, but the same report found that in the spring of 2019, 4,400 of the 22,000 students interviewed downloaded free content –– twice as many as three years prior.
For physical textbooks, there is at least competition. Thriftbooks, Amazon and campus organization group chats all serve as alternative, cheaper ways to buy textbooks. However, with programs like Connect, you can either buy the online code or overwhelm yourself with a semester of homework during the free trial. Of course, the latter is reserved for those lucky students whose teachers have released the materials that far in advance; otherwise, in order to not fail, students have to buy the online homework.
Connect has several features: quizzes, “interactive” textbooks that test you as you read and video guides for extra information. However, as someone who learns better through writing things by hand or using flashcards, these tools do little to improve my understanding of the assigned material. Not only are these tools wildly expensive, but they are also nonessential.
For online classes, I’ve had teachers post PowerPoints of their lessons, supplementary videos and graded quizzes on Blackboard, all for free. It’s ultimately up to teachers to decide what resources best help their students learn, but as a student in a generation burdened with the rising cost of college, having an extra $84 in my bank account helps me worry less and focus on my classes more.
Katie Dames is a junior international studies major from St. Louis, Missouri.