Monday, August 25, 2008

Textbook Insanity

This weekend I dropped my daughter off to begin her sophomore at James Madison University. I am a member of USAA and on their site, they recommend clearly establishing what the parent will pay for and what the college student will pay for. We have done this and I am paying for tuition, room/board and books.

I kind of threw in books, just being a generous parent. I sincerely wish I had not done so. The ridiculousness that is college text books is totally out of hand. We were able to buy used books for half of her requirement for this semester and it still cost over $550 for five classes.

I have no qualms about paying $550 if she were going to use the books, glean massive amounts of applicable knowledge, and see the value of this investment - but that is totally not the reality. Half the time the professors never even use the books.

From the Washington Post: “Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks range from $700 to $1,100 annually, and the market for new books is estimated at $3.6 billion this year. Between 1986 and 2004, the price of textbooks nearly tripled, rising an average of 6 percent a year while inflation rose 3 percent, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. In California, the state auditor reported last week that prices have skyrocketed 30 percent in four years.”

Congress and states are trying to legislate a solution which will never work. This problem needs to be solved at the university level. If the professor assigns readings that are online, there is no cost and the quality is probably the same and text book price gouging will end.

But it will all be too late for me. My daughters will have graduated long before a solution is found. Maybe with file sharing like Textbook Torrents, the text book industry will go the way of the record store and future parents wont have to deal with text book insanity.


mtheads said...

It's a case of we all know what the problem is, it's been a problem for a long time, and we have an idea of alternatives, yet nothing changes.

Anonymous said...

The worst part of it is when a "new" edition comes out that's only different by a rearrangement of the homework problems. So, you can get the 8th edition used for $25, but you have to get the 9th edition new for $150 so you can do the problems your professor assigns, even though the text content is unchanged.

Jasmin Loire said...

I'd like to post a comment from the professor side of things.

My mother is a college professor who uses the textbooks she assigns. However, much of the work is in the public domain and she really assigns anthologies. So, this past summer, she sat down and created her own anthology using only the material she uses in class and nothing else. Then she published it as a Coursepack.

That said, it comes from her administration that they MUST assign a textbook. She's had many cases in different courses that she's taught over the years that she'd prefer to point students to Project Gutenberg versions of her public domain texts.

The administration has been enraged and REQUIRED that she assign at least one book per class. Their reasoning (I kid you not) is that if there are no assigned books, then parents won't feel that their child is getting a good education there.

Parents, the power is yours. Make a stink to the deans and chancellors that you'd be very happy if professors were allowed to go textbook-free. There are a bunch of professors just waiting for the leash to be removed.

Hall Monitor said...

Hopefully at some point educators will admit that textbooks are becoming obsolete and technology will be the best way to teach students.