As the fall semester begins, Cornell’s Academic Materials Program has launched. This new program, with a $225 flat-rate cost per semester, provides students digital access to their required textbooks and course packages on Canvas. While students expressed opinions on the program earlier in July, professors also shared their perspectives.
Several professors said that a thorough textbook, rather than shorter materials such as research papers and book excerpts, is critical for students’ academic success.
Prof. Daniel Szpiro, a visiting senior lecturer at Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business, stated the indispensability of textbooks in his financial accounting and managerial accounting courses.
“[The textbooks] are certainly required… In my undergraduate financial accounting courses, we really use the textbook very extensively as the backbone for the whole course,” Szpiro said. “We’re going to cover every single chapter in that textbook over the whole semester.”
Prof. Suzanne B. Shu, marketing, emphasized Szpiro’s point.
“It’s important that the students buy those materials and read them before class. For example, we do case discussions where it’s very important that they’ve read the cases before we tried to talk about them in class,” Shu said. “So, finding ways to try to encourage students to get the material is important.”
Some professors have found, however, that students might borrow the older edition from their friends or even not have a textbook for the class. And this can be a problem for students taking the open notes exams, since they do not have the material to look up to.
“In my class of over 200 students, there might be a handful of students who would try to use the older edition just because they got a copy from a friend,” said Sylvia Lee, molecular biology and genetics.
Under such a challenging situation, CAMP can serve as a cost-effective backup for students, ensuring that they can have all the essentials that the professors would like them to have.
Professor Shu also said that the new program can reduce the pain of loss since students access everything through a single flat fee and source.
“Psychologically, for students, I think it’s actually a good thing. They feel like they make the decision once but once they’ve made that decision, everything feels free after that, instead of feeling like every single purchase is painful,” said Shu. “Every class that you’d have to buy another textbook for feels like a loss. It [paying once for the program] doesn’t feel like a separate loss. It just gets integrated into the rest of what you’re paying.”
Shu, Szpiro and Lee agreed that providing students access to the right materials, without their having to worry about the cost of each book, can also benefit professors.
“I think this will allow the professors to choose what’s best [for students] without worrying about the cost,” Shu said.
On the other hand, some professors said they felt that, for students who only require one or two textbooks, the total cost of $225 might seem too high.
“If people feel like the price is too high for this program, then they’re going to feel like it’s unfair, and that they don’t have control to be able to buy just the things that they need,” said Shu. “Fairness is going to be a big input into how many students are willing to actually sign up for this.”
Certain professors also proposed several possible suggestions and solutions, encouraging the university to give the estimation for students and provide more options in this program to address different situations the students might have.
Shu said that the University should offer a cost estimate for students’ individual required textbooks, allowing them to compare those prices to CAMP.
Lee proposed a two-tier system that would allow some students to choose to buy certain textbooks without paying the program fee.
“Maybe they can still preserve the system if students can pick and choose,” said Lee. “Cornell can manage to negotiate. If the students only have one class, they can still choose to pay $30 for that one textbook, and they don’t have to pay over $200 for things you don’t need.”
Overall, professors still feel optimistic about the program, in that it will benefit more students in the future.
“There’ll be some grumblings but they are not insurmountable. That should be pretty fixable,” said Chris Loss, a Louis Pasteur lecturer in Food Science. “People will realize the problems, and people will reflect on it and we’ll optimize the system.”