Where are the Free Access Textbooks?

Students struggling during the pandemic receive assistance with textbooks from publishing companies


Because of the pandemic and transition to online learning, many students were given free eBook access in spring 2020.
But Mt. SAC President and CEO Bill Scroggins said Mt. SAC never provided free textbooks to credit courses except for high school students taking dual enrollment classes. Vice President of Student Services Audrey Yamagata-Noji said she did not know about access to free textbooks because it depends on the program.
So where did the eBooks come from?
When the campus first shut down in March, classes had to shift online. Many students who relied on the resources on campus, such as free Wi-Fi and access to textbooks, needed help.
The Association of American Publishers came up with a response when campuses closed down and classes moved online. On their COVID-19 Response page, a list of publishers announced they will be offering free access to eBooks and other resources to help with this transition.
Publishers such as Cengage, Macmillan Learning and Pearson offered free access to all their eBooks and online platforms through the rest of the spring semester. Oxford University Press’s Epigeum made its courses free until the end of May. Perusall offered a free rental option until the end of this academic year.
No one foresaw this pandemic would last this long but students would hope the free access lasts forever.
When asked if it would be possible to offer free textbooks to all students, Scroggins said, “We actually introduced a bill in the Legislature, not in the most recent session, which was focused on COVID-19 issues, but in previous session.”
The bill in question is called the Affordable College Textbook Act and introduced to the House of Representative on Apr. 4, 2019. It allows, “institutions of higher education or states to support projects that expand the use of open textbooks.” This would let colleges and universities use open sources such as eBooks, which means students gain free access to textbooks.
Openstax is an example of an open source.
Santa Monica College, California State University Fullerton and Pasadena City College are a few of the institutes that are partnered with Openstax.
“Right now, we got emergency dollars from the federal government. We disperse them in the spring and summer to students,” Yamagata-Noji said. “We don’t have any more additional dollars, so we don’t have a full system of free textbooks, but if students want to access something from the textbook, check with the library.”
Academic Senate President and librarian Chisato Uyeki responded in an email on students’ accessibilities to textbooks during this pandemic:
“Before COVID-19 we did two hour loans of textbooks for use in the library. Because we are off campus the library shifted to providing access to digital chapters of textbooks.”
Another librarian, Kolap Samel, responded in an email on why the “scanned textbook chapters” option limits to two chapters per day and lose access once students request more chapters:
“The reason why there is a limit is because of copyright, and yes, the reason why it is temporary access is also because of copyright. The Library takes providing access to information to Mt. SAC students very seriously, however, we also want to do so in a manner that is legally and ethically acceptable. Hence, there is a copyright disclaimer on every file that we digitize explaining that this is a temporary service due to the campus response to COVID-19.”
The bookstore has not responded to questions regarding book rentals.

Toni Albertson, professor of journalism and adviser of student media, said she is aware of the economic struggles students are facing during the pandemic.

“I decided to seek out free, open sourced online resources and textbooks for my students while they are attending online courses,” Albertson said. “Students did not plan on taking these classes online and I’ve seen so many already struggling with their own and their family members’ job losses, sick family members, and the stress of online learning. The last thing I want to do is add more economic burden to their lives.”
According to an EdSource article, grades earned from free-textbook classes are better than classes that required students to purchase textbooks. It stated, “failing grades are 11% less prevalent, while grades of “A” were 7% more frequent.”

Christopher Salazar, 20, Mt. SAC business administration major believes that colleges should provide free textbooks because financial aids only helped in some sense.

“My freshman year at Mt. SAC when I was taking Math 180 I remember we needed to buy a textbook which was $200. Someone who struggles to pay for tuition may now struggle to pay for a $200 book,” he said.