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CU Denver student plans to lower costs of textbooks and health insurance

Students could save thousands of dollars with the free textbooks provided by open educational resources.
Photo: Madison Daley· The Sentry

Matthew Charnin wants to make campus more affordable

Matthew Charnin, a political science student at CU Denver, is working to alleviate some costs that students struggle to meet by focusing on two areas: student textbooks and health insurance plans. 

Charnin, like many college students, has been struggling and frustrated with educational costs, including texbook costs and health insurance. College Board reports that from 2017-2018 in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average rate of 3.2 percent per year beyond inflation. 

“Students are not only having a difficult time affording educational expenses, but students are having to take out absurd amounts of debt—1.5 trillion dollars nationally—in order to obtain what society should be striving to provide: an education that will allow for the progression of our nation through innovation and ingenuity,” Charnin said. Increasing costs are preventing many students access to education.

  Charnin was recently interviewed by Annie Taylor in a report for 7 News, which detailed how the price of textbooks have gone up over 1,000 percent since 1977. Regarding costs of textbooks, Charnin says “on average, they’re about $1,200 for the year.”

He first learned about Open Educational Resources in 2015, a program to deliver digital copies of educational materials to schools and students for free. Students would gain access to PDF versions of these materials by logging in online with their CU Denver credentials. 

Kaitlyn Vitez, Director of Campaign to Save Student Aid at US PIRG, says the costs of textbooks is “definitely one of those unexpected costs of college” as “nearly two-thirds of students are skipping buying textbooks at some point.” Vitez previously worked with faculty at Rutgers University to implement a similar program for Open Educational Resources.

Earlier this year, Charnin authored a resolution to address Open Educational Resources on campus that passed through the CU Denver Student Government Association. Students from CU Denver and CU Boulder later went to the state capitol to present a plan to implement Open Educational Resources to Colorado state legislators.

Higher Education Open Educational Resources, HB18-1331, signed on April 30, 2018, established a council to promote “the adaptation, creation, and use of open educational resources at public institutions of higher education across the state.” Additionally, the bill “directs the commission to adopt guidelines requiring public institutions of higher education, beginning in the fall of 2021, to inform students concerning those courses that use open educational resources.”

Though the purpose of the council is to promote Open Educational Resources on Colorado campuses, it doesn’t require that all courses make affordable digital resources available to students. Peter Anthamatten, the Chair of the CU Denver Faculty Assembly, will meet with Student Government Association representatives in October to discuss moving the issue forward with the assembly.

When asked how students feel about the potential for Open Educational Resources on the CU Denver campus, Charnin said “The only caution I have heard from some students is to ensure the quality is comparable to the materials currently being used. This is a valid concern and it will inevitably be up to the faculty to decide whether they feel the materials are suitable for use in their courses.”

Vitez says students concerned with using digital platforms should know that there is “a lot of flexibility with open textbooks,” as a student who dislikes using digital copies of textbooks can “get them really affordably in print.”

Additionally, with the rising costs of health insurance, Charnin is also trying to introduce a student health insurance plan to the CU Denver campus to give students more affordable options. According to The New York Times, most colleges and universities, both private and public, require full-time students to have health insurance. CU Denver doesn’t require its students to have health insurance nor does it offer an insurance discount plan, unlike other campuses in Colorado.

Charnin believes this is an issue that needs to be addressed, as he believes approximately 20 percent of CU Denver students don’t have health insurance. 

Being uninsured can lead to dangerous health risks. According a 2017 report from the Chicago Tribune, 20 percent of the uninsured adults who have gone without care they needed within the past year are less likely to receive preventive care.

Sara Wright, the Director of Programs and Communications for the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care, stresses the importance of college students receiving proper health care as many people don’t realize that “a lot of chronic illnesses begin in college,” including mental illnesses. According to a 2017 report from NBC News, nearly 12 percent of college freshmen indicated that they are frequently depressed, and 33.2 percent of college students who sought counseling help had considered suicide.

Wright adds that for many college students, “affordable options are in short supply.” Wright is particularly worried that students will have even fewer options if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. She says it’s important to remember that “for students living in any other developed nation, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

Charnin, who has looked at different health care options from many universities, recently wrote a health insurance proposal for CU Denver based on the Metro State plan, which covers all of their students. Metro students who already have health insurance must opt out of the university’s plan and provide proof of insurance. Charnin’s plan also includes adjunct faculty in the potential CU Denver health insurance plan.

Charnin says he himself has been without health insurance for about a year. While he doesn’t believe any proposed student health insurance plans will be implemented before he graduates in spring 2019, he feels it is important for future students of CU Denver to receive coverage.

Charnin, who moved to Denver from Miami four and a half years ago, hopes to remain in Colorado. “Once I noticed the active civic engagement in this state, it became a huge indicator that I wanted to remain here and get involved in Colorado politics,” Charnin said.

He also hopes to be involved in “furthering equality as well as finding equitable solutions to the problems that abound in this great state.”

Charnin, who says he’s always been interested in politics, served as the Student Body President when he attended CCD from 2016-2017. “I knew there were issues that needed to be addressed, such as the affordability of textbooks, that could easily be seen as out-of-reach for students to take on,” Charnin said. 

When asked what his experiences with student government and activism has taught him, Charnin said, “We need to stop telling ourselves that we don’t have a platform or a position of power and instead begin to act. Once this shift occurs, we will all start contributing to the progression of society.”

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