A committee of Wisconsin’s student government regrouped for its first meeting of the semester Wednesday with plans to tackle the university’s textbook affordability, financial literacy and mental health issues.
During an open forum addressing the high costs of textbooks on campus, various members of the Associated Students of Madison University Affairs Committee noted the “ridiculous” sellback prices from the University Book Store, the knowledge gap in rental opportunities and the physical heaviness of textbooks. Committee members also highlighted the shortage of online or more affordable course reader options.
Still, University Affairs Committee Chair Becca Buell said reinstating the ASM Textbook Swap, where students buy and sell books from each other at reduced prices, could be a logistical nightmare.
“A lot of the problem comes from the fact that ASM doesn’t have storage for all of the books,” Buell said. “Storage, volunteers to actually do the exchange and the liability of having all those books underneath volunteers are an issue.”
Buell added the textbook swap, which previously occurred each semester from Fall 2008 through Spring 2011, had been “a little unstructured.” ASM is not a business, and therefore liable to mishandle students’ cash or books, she said.
According to Buell, University Affairs is trying to pool its resources for a similar exchange with less financial risk.
“The students tried for years to get it institutionalized and have somebody pick it up in a way that would be feasible, but university at the time didn’t want to touch it,” ASM Campus Organizer and Assistant Director Kelly Krein said.
Limited accessibility textbook requirements and prices for courses are additional flaws that prevent ASM from keeping textbooks affordable for students, according to Krein. She added obligations for instructors to list reading requirements for their courses have not been enforced.
Krein said the requirement came from a federal law and descended to the UW System level encouraging professors to make their book lists available prior to the start of the semester. However, she noted the suggestion to UW faculty members has never been pushed hard enough.
Promoting students with basic personal finance education is another operation University Affairs is advocating this semester, according to Working Financial Literacy Campaign Chair Mary Prunty.
“Because students are affected by finances so much, we’re trying to get some sort of help for students – whether that be with their financial aid or with budgeting – something to educate them through finances,” Prunty said. “Right now Madison offers almost nothing.”
She added building solid, centralized university programs is the goal of the campaign and her hope is for the program to exist for the future, rather than occurring for only one event.
Similarly, Buell said the mental health campaign will attempt to affect campus in methods beyond just a single event. She noted ASM’s Stress Reduction Fair in collaboration with University Health Services in December was a “huge success” with a “great turnout.” However, she said creating an atmosphere of mental health promotion is the goal for the spring semester.
“We have a campus where students are obviously stressed out with midterms and finals at different points,” Buell said. “This semester, we’re hoping to work in a partnership with UHS again and different student groups to make another movement to make sure that mental health is prioritized on our campus.”