College students forgo basic needs to afford textbooks during pandemic

PITTSBURG, Calif. (KGO) -- All this week, we are looking at the learning loss for students caused by the pandemic. A new survey just released revealed the pandemic is worsening a crisis facing college students nationwide. Here's one possible solution.

Andrew Neciuk says he's worked as many as four jobs at a time to scrounge enough money to pay for college.

The Los Medanos student even spent an entire semester without buying a pre-calculus book to save money.

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"So I used a lot of Khan Academy. I relied a lot on Khan Academy and looking at other resources that were free," said Neciuk.

A US Public Interest Research Group survey of 5,000 students from 80 campuses found 65% of students skipped purchasing text books last year.

Ninety percent of those feared the decision would hurt their grade.

Cailyn Nagle authored the study. "The situation is just more than a shame. It's an urgent problem that colleges and universities have to solve," said Nagle.

Students who depend on summer work to pay for college lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

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Valerie Nguyen of the California Public Interest Research Group and a UC Berkeley student collected surveys from 100 students on her campus for the same study.

"Textbooks have always been expensive, but COVID has especially impacted students that were already vulnerable," she said.

The survey found a surge of students who did not have the money to buy the mandatory access codes needed to download their homework and quizzes.

"I met students who couldn't afford their materials and had to skip meals to buy them," said Nguyen.

Edward Haven shows us a possible solution to all this.

The professor of philosophy at Los Medanos Community College in Pittsburg used a state grant to create a free textbook using open-sourced materials readily available on the internet.

The money he received came from a bill passed in 2016, authorizing $5 million for the program to make free downloadable textbooks available at community colleges and state universities.

"We pay faculty extra time to create, curate and vet open education resources. Then, that way we can provide students with free textbooks," the professor said.

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"Open textbooks are available for most introductory level classes in most disciplines. This is really important because those tend to be the largest classes," Nagle said.

Neciuk says he used to spend around $400 for his books each semester.

Open sourced books have changed that.

"Now it can cost 80, 100 bucks. So it's a substantial decrease," he said.

Governor Newsom hopes to expand the free textbook program. He's proposed spending $15 million to develop more degree programs with them.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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