University launches STEM textbook loan program for low-income students


Daily file photo by Jeffrey Wang

The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, 1801 Hinman Ave. Provost Jonathan Holloway said he approved Books for Cats to loan low-income students STEM textbooks.

Erica Snow, Campus Editor

Northwestern launched a pilot program this quarter to loan first-year students textbooks related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes, Provost Jonathan Holloway said.

Holloway said about a month ago, he approved a proposal brought to him by the Office of Undergraduate Admission. He said he approved the program, Books for Cats, so students could have textbooks at the beginning of the quarter instead of delaying purchases and potentially falling behind in classes.

He said the program allows low-income students to pursue STEM fields on an even playing field.

“We’ve admitted them,” Holloway said. “They are now a part of this community, and we are ethically obliged to make sure that they have every resource they can so that they can have as close to an equitable access to (their) future.”

Holloway said the Office of Undergraduate Admission contacted 351 students to notify them of their potential eligibility for the program.

Brian Drabik, senior associate director of the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, said STEM textbooks can be very expensive and a burden to low-income students.

He said students can borrow textbooks for various subjects including chemistry, economics and math from the University and pick them up in the bookstore at Norris University Center. While Books for Cats focuses on “key, introductory” classes, Drabik said students can keep the textbooks into following quarters if they are still needed.

“Especially for incoming students … having assistance with their startup costs is so essential,” Drabik said. “Many times, low-income students may come to campus not as prepared as they thought they may have been, so I imagine that this will alleviate a lot of stress for these students.”

Communication sophomore Kimani Isaac said even though there are opportunities at NU to lower textbook costs for first-year students, there aren’t many for older students like herself.

She said she created a petition calling on the University to support textbook affordability. As of early Friday morning, more than 530 people had signed the petition, addressed to Holloway, vice president for student affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin and University President Morton Schapiro.

“I’m always going to be happy that there are resources for students to buy books … but, at the same time, it’s only first-year students,” Isaac said. “Where my pain and my hesitation comes from is that, what are those students going to do when they’re no longer first-years?”

Isaac said she hopes textbook affordability programs like Books for Cats are expanded to include majors unrelated to STEM.

The petition asks all professors to eliminate course packets because they are a “burden on the earth” and a “barrier” to education.

However, Holloway said legal complications may arise if professors upload all of their required readings online. He added that he is “completely behind” lowering the barrier to educational resources.

“We are trying to be really sensitive to these issues,” Holloway said. “There are some things that Northwestern will be doing that we will be doing very, very quietly to make sure the students can save face … in this very complicated socioeconomic stew that we have here.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ericasnoww