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Books for ’Cats helps ease the burden of expensive class materials

Growing program invites students with financial need to borrow books, lab equipment
books for cats
Books for ’Cats courses range from astronomy and chemistry to economics, journalism and theatre. In all, more than 130 courses are covered. Northwestern Now staff photo

Anyone who has purchased books for college recently knows how expensive they can be. The average price of a textbook in 2022 was just over $100, according to the Education Data Initiative.

To help ease the burden for students most in need of assistance, Northwestern offers the Books for ’Cats program. Undergraduate students identified by the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid are invited to borrow materials — textbooks, clickers, access codes and lab equipment — in select courses.

“We know from students that the high cost of course materials creates stress for students when you have financial constraints,” said Miriam Gamoran Sherin, associate provost for undergraduate education. “Books for ’Cats aims to create a more equitable class experience for everyone.”

Since its launch in 2017, Books for ’Cats has grown in popularity, tripling from approximately 350 to 900 students. Around 80% of all eligible students take part in the program.

Originally serving only first-year students, the program expanded this fall to support eligible students throughout their time at Northwestern.

Books for ’Cats courses range from astronomy and chemistry to economics, journalism and theatre. In all, more than 130 courses are covered.

In the past, instructors often would often hear from students asking for help finding low-cost options for course materials, according to Emma Tevaarwerk DeCosta, an associate professor of instruction and advisor in the McCormick School of Engineering.

“The frustration and anxiety from this weighed heavily on us all — we knew we could do better, DeCosta said. “I now rarely, if ever, have to help students find materials. Instead, our time is spent learning and truly educating each other.”

Participation does not impact a student’s financial aid package or other scholarships because students borrow course materials and return them to the University bookstore.

Elizabeth Son is a junior pursuing a degree in statistics and economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She used Books for ’Cats to access materials for a math sequence during her first year.

“The program provided a textbook I used for two quarters, as well as MyLab Math, the program we used for class assignments,” she said. “The sequence was very important to my statistics major because it gave me the strong mathematical foundations to succeed in higher-level classes.”

Many Books for ’Cats courses have materials in University Library Course Reserves. Students can check out material for a pre-determined amount of time — two hours, four hours or a day — to complete their readings. University Library also has free scanners for student use.

For more information on buying books at Northwestern, visit the Financial Wellness website. Also, check out Affordable Instructional Resources (AIR).