-For Immediate Release-
Isabel Muir, Campus Organizer, Florida PIRG Campus Action, [email protected]
John Martinous III, President, WikiKnights at University of Central Florida, [email protected]
ORLANDO, FL — In a win for student choice and textbook affordability, we applaud University of Central Florida’s decision to maintain the opt-in structure for the “First Day” textbooks program through Barnes and Noble.
“It took a coalition of open-source advocates, socialists, moderates and conservatives to show that companies should not have the right to automatically bill students. I am very relieved to see that UCF has decided to keep the current opt-in program and I hope to see UCF lead on textbook affordability and fair consumer practices for other universities to follow,” said John Martinous III, President of UCF WikiKnights
Over the past several months, students from a broad coalition, including Wiki Knights, Young Democratic Socialists of America, College Democrats and Republicans, and Florida PIRG Students, built support for maintaining the current opt-in system and voiced concerns over the proposed opt-out policy.
An opt-out automatic billing program for textbooks and access codes would create a new policy where students would be automatically charged for all their course materials through Barnes and Noble, as opposed to the current system where students are able to opt-in to buy course materials. This would mean that if a student does not manually select not to pay for course materials on MyUCF within a week of classes starting, the charge will go on the student’s tuition bill.
As colleges and universities across the country look to cut the high costs of textbooks, institutions have expanded the use of rental programs, open educational resources, and newer “innovative” billing mechanisms such as the “First Day” program. While many of these programs offer lower price points up front for students, US PIRG Education Fund’s 2020 report on automatic textbook billing showed concerning patterns deeper in the contracts including steep quotas for student purchasing, uncapped annual price increases, and limits on print copies. The report also included recommendations for institutions moving forward with these programs including maintaining the opt-in mechanism.
“I’m so happy that UCF is no longer pursuing the proposed opt-out policy,” said Brissa Loayza, Florida PIRG’s Affordable Textbooks Campaign Coordinator and sophomore studying Political Science at UCF, “With the recent announcement, the ability for students to shop around for the most affordable course material options will stay in place. I’m proud of our work to maintain the opt-in policy for the “First Day” program through Barnes and Noble and I’m excited to continue working with the University on textbook affordability”
Throughout the course of the semester, the groups collected over 1,200 petition signatures from fellow UCF students showing support for continuing the opt-in system, and advocating against the automatic billing policy.
“It’s rare to find an issue that unites Wikipedia editors, Democrats, and Republicans support. At the end of the day, no matter the political party or major, students care about access to an affordable higher education and affordable course materials. Given the new change in Florida law allowing opt-out billing programs, UCF has shown that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should,” said Chris Slaughter, Student Government Senator and Vice Chair of the Student Body Advocacy Committee at UCF.
Wiki Knights is a student run organization at the University of Central Florida that began as a group editing and creating new Wikipedia pages and textbooks. Wiki Knights is now aimed at advancing the use of open-source textbooks on college campuses as well as contributing to the existing open source communities such as OpenStax, Wikipedia, Pressbooks and others.
PIRG Campus Action is a national training and advocacy program started by the Student PIRGs and is based on a model that has been helping students make positive change for almost 50 years. PIRG Campus Action student clubs work with professional staff at colleges and universities to make sure our peers have the skills, opportunities and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Our network on over 100 campuses provides the training, professional support and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry and more.