Textbook Prices Stir Campus Frustration


Students have approached El Vaquero newspaper in recent days over textbook prices and “access codes” they say are required to turn in homework assignments via the publisher’s website, prompting the school paper to investigate the issue and reach out to multiple individuals across various school departments.

“Instructors do not require students to buy the textbooks new,” a statement from the Spanish Department sent to El Vaquero read. “In fact, most instructors project the virtual textbook on the screen during class. In that way, if a student doesn’t have the text or forgot it at home they are able to follow along in class.”

Students, however, feel that they need to spend money just to turn in their homework.

“Basically, we are required to complete and turn in our homework through a separate website set up by the publishing company that distributes the Spanish textbooks for the college,” said GCC student Louis Sotillo, who is enrolled in an in-class Spanish 101 course on campus. “This would mean that the homework portion of our grade is dependent on obtaining access to a program set up by a third party.”

Other students, who asked to remain anonymous, cited geology and health coursework that requires special code textbooks. Students characterized these as “one-time use” books. El Vaquero verified that those courses also require similar codes for students to turn in homework.

Indeed, multiple courses at Glendale College require students to buy their way to an online component, including  some Economics 102, Geography 101, Geology 103,  Math 131, and Health 104 classes. Each option is over $100 and customer reviews for each program’s usefulness vary.

In Spanish classes, students need to purchase an access code if they want to log in to the Vista Higher Learning Supersite, where all homework assignments are placed and automatically graded. The homework portion of the Spanish classes makes up about 10 percent of the student’s final grade.

The non-refundable, non-transferable access code can be acquired through the purchase of a new textbook at Glendale’s bookstore, costing students about $140. Alternatively, the code can be purchased separately on the Vista Higher Learning website, for $140 – which means the student would be without a physical copy of the book unless obtained independently. That particular access code version provides login to the textbook’s online resources. There are other, more expensive options with extra features to aid in student learning.

Instructors described to El Vaquero how services like Vista came to be used.

“In order to be ADA compliant, a legal requirement for our textbooks, we need to use resources like the Vista Supersite,” read the Department statement. “The textbook and Supersite provide videos, laboratory exercises, grammar tutorials, and many other aspects for foreign language learning that by law must be closed captioned and fully accessible for all students.”

The Spanish Department does not use the Supersite for exams and all tests are administered in class.

“This site provides out of the classroom exercises that reinforce the class lectures needed for the development of fluency in the language,” the statement continued. Exercises provided includes reading comprehension activities, audio and video components, cultural presentations, and grammar and vocabulary review, among others.

“The price of the textbook personally affected me because I had an initial agreement with a student, who had previously taken the class, to purchase the textbook for $60,” said Sotillo. That plan fell through after Sotillo learned on the first day of class that an access code would be required, which cannot be obtained through a used textbook.

Without a viable access code, Sotillo ended up purchasing a new copy of the textbook through the bookstore on campus for about $142. That’s $80 more than his initial bargain.

“That $80 difference in the price of the book may not have been devastating to me right now, but I know a few years ago it would have been a really big deal,” said Sotillo. “It would have meant the difference between taking the bus to school or putting gas in my car, or choosing whether to buy groceries or buy fast food for the next two weeks.”

Sotillo stressed that he was worried about how other Glendale students may fair in regards to having to purchase the textbook. The average, full-time community college student pays roughly $550 per semester in unit fees.

Other language professors, not associated with Spanish, assign online homework through Canvas and use other services that provide audio and video components, like Mango Languages program.

Mango Languages is a language service offered to academic institutions – such as Glendale Community College. GCC has to pay a subscription fee for the service, but it is free for professors and students at the College. The program has over 70 languages listed, including Spanish, French, Italian, and Korean. Mango also appears to be ADA compliant, offering closed captioned subtitles.

One professor, who requested to remain anonymous, said that services like Vista Higher Learning or Heinle Learning Center are “often poorly designed, very pricey, not renewable or transferable, not always in accordance with what is done in class, and extremely frustrating for the students.”

Other opinions on the efficacy of Vista’s Supersite program differ. Some, including Sotillo, have had no overbearing issues with the program.

Pasadena City College has recently added Mango to its library repertoire. “PCC’s library only just recently subscribed to Mango Languages and started advertising it a few weeks ago,” said Library Dean Lisa A. Tirapelle. “Since it is so new, we really do not have any usage data or feedback yet.”

There are roughly 260 students enrolled across all Spanish 101 and 102 sections. “Foreign language classes have a capacity of 35 students per class,” said the Department statement. “It is virtually impossible to give this kind of feedback in a timely manner when daily homework is assigned.”

If each student purchases the $140 textbook option through the bookstore, that’s about $34,000 spent.


Ken Allard can be reached at [email protected]