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Required materials: are they worth the cost?


Classes have started, syllabi are out, bank accounts are about to plunge.  Our bank accounts aren’t empty because we’re finally back to those college bars that make us hand over $200 (and our dignity) for the cover charge… and another $70 for a drink or two… or three… or perhaps seven. No, this is not the reason we are broke. Rather, it is the fact that our professors expect us to buy these expensive textbooks that we never use and to pay lab fees upwards of $200 for “labs” we never see.  

As a communication major, I have been in several classes that require a mandatory non refundable lab fee. This “lab fee” is for use of the cage where equipment can be checked out to use for projects. I have had classes where the cage equipment was not required to use or optional. So, why is the lab fee mandatory if the use of it is optional? Furthermore, the times when I have tried to checkout a video camera from the cage, the nicest camera I could get was a Flip Camera, which is worse than using a first generation iTouch. I might as well use my phone. Each class has its own designated equipment that you’re allowed to checkout, so if your class doesn’t have access to something in the cage, neither do you, even though you pay $150 to use it.

Textbooks are another required material for class that we seldom use and could be an optional purchase. Throughout the entire semester, we open the textbook maybe four times, but only when Quizlet isn’t able to answer our questions. Other uses of these textbooks include, but aren’t limited to stepping stools, weapons, tricking your parents into thinking you are studious when they come and visit, a nice toilet read, a blanket for those cold, lonely nights. The basic things, you get it.

This isn’t true for everyone, however. My roommate prefers to teach herself the lessons from the book because she doesn’t feel like going to class. If I’m spending $200 to read in bed and teach myself, there better be some massage therapists handy, food on deck and the rain forest playlist on Spotify sounding in the background. I understand that the authors and editors of these textbooks dedicated time and research to produce such knowledgable text, and Dr. Donald Knowitall and the publishers at We’ll-rip-you-off Education have to be paid for their hard work. But, trust me when I say that us college students are by no means rolling in the dough.

I have another friend who is an art minor and spent around $300 for her supplies.  She’s no Picasso either, so selling her paintings probably isn’t going to pay off her bill for the supplies.

“If you’re going for a major in art, then the price for the degree in the end is worth it, but if it’s a one time thing,it can be difficult to deal with,” freshman digital arts major Jen Snook said.

As juniors, my peers and I have learned that when the syllabus says “textbook required,”  that means it is time to call up the parentals, beg and plead for them to fund our educations and to give us the opportunity to learn from those “required” textbooks so someday we can graduate and make them proud. And if our requests for financial help are successful, there is only one thing left to do: buy a keg and invite all our friends over. Then, when midterms and finals roll around, we can panic and ask our classmates for pictures of the pages so we can give ourselves a painful headache trying to read a semester’s worth of material on our measly smartphone screens. Or if you’re smart enough to think this far, get a study group together and choose the one student who actually got the book to be in your group. I’ve learned that this is a power move from experience as the poor and ignorant one without the book.

Having over  two years of experience with unnecessary lab fees and textbook rentals, I can safely advise others to wait and see how often you truly are going to use the book. If homework assignments and readings don’t come directly from the book, chances are you won’t use it and purchasing it would be a waste of moolah. As for lab fees, if the use of the cage is restricted and optional, why should the price be mandatory. It should be optional for those who want to use it, instead of slipped in with the rest of our tuition. Poor freshman won’t know about these hidden fees and unnecessary purchases, but they’ll learn in due time.

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