Tuesday, August 19, 2008

College book prices ... obscene

The price of college books has always been an issue and this year is no exception. SWAC Daughter's books are exorbitant this semester ... one book alone was $188!

One hundred and eighty-eight dollars for one book.

That is obscene to me. It was a new edition so no used copies were available. If someone can explain to me why college books are so ridiculously expensive, I'm all ears.


Anonymous said...

College Professors dont make that much... just teaching. They make their real bread and butter with research, publications, and textbooks. If you make your book required reading, you are guaranteeing an audience and a sale. Of course... you then realize that you never use the damn thing through the course.

I always waited until the first day of class before I picked up the books. It might say on the yellow tag at the bookstore that its required, but I had a few who said, "Meh... its required reference, but theres a few copies in the library". I also had one guy tell us that he wasnt coming out with a new edition for at least 5 more years, and to annotate the book as new info came out (It was a cosmology book... new astronomy info had been published that week).

Hope this helps a little.

Anonymous said...

The Anonymous poster spreads a malicious rumor about an entire profession without having any basis in fact.

When I first taught at Monterey Peninsula College and Hartnell College in California, the books for the courses that I had been assigned to teach, had already been selected by the Department. Since the books that we used were authored by professors at other schools, nobody at our college was receiving any profit for using those texts. The compensation most textbook authors receive comes in the form of earning tenure, not from big royalties from book sales.

Later in my teaching days, I was allowed to specify the text to be used or opt out of requiring a text altogether. I always prefer to use no text and instead use online materials and hand-outs that I produce on my own.

Publishing companies send free copies of their new texts to key members of the teaching staff with the hope that their books will be picked for use. The book companies come out with revised editions nearly every year. The school could elect to allow the use of an older edition, but then availability of books becomes an issue.

Having been in the Business and Industrial Technology Department, I was always acutely conscious of the costs of the books. Many professors are, but some do not have much of a say in what text will be specified.

I think that if professors had to deduct the cost of their own copy of the specified book from their pay, there would be much more pressure applied to lower book prices; but that will never happen.

Students should unite with faculty and staff at their schools and raise Hell about the ridiculous cost of textbooks. They should also fight the never ending spiral of "fees" that tack on as much as thirty per cent of the cost of the degree.

If the colleges were forced to focus on just being places of higher learning, rather than being four or more years of nannying, where every human need is attended to, then costs of college could be finally reduced. A bottom up review is needed on campuses and every ancillary function should be targeted for possible elimination. In order to provide a good education, does a college need: Its own police force, daycare center, clinic, pharmacy, student activities department, layers of "administrators" for everything from "black" studies to lesbian sensitivity sessions (like the ones forced upon students at the University of Richmond)?

As for textbooks and other supplies, the first step is to shop around the faculty to find professors who will not be using a textbook, or who will use or allow the use of older editions.

Next, do not wait until the class starts to find out if the text will be used. Contact the teacher by email or phone and discuss this issue. I recently took literature class where hardback editions were all that were carried at the college bookstore, but by contacting the professor early, I learned that paperback editions were what he preferred we use and he also gave me several online sources. My total costs of books for that course was twelve dollars, instead of nearly two hundred dollars.

I recently looked into taking a Calculus course, as a refresher. The text, of which there are no used versions available, since it is a new edition, costs $220. What many students and parents don't know is that many of the "requirements" for calculus are negotiable, so you may be able to take a two semester Applied Calculus class and be able to substitute that those credits for the two semesters of the "standard" Calculus course. Some curricula that require Calculus will allow one semester of Calculus with the second semester in Statistics. What this means is that you should examine if that three semester course with the megabuck text is what you really need, or if you can get by with the shorter course with the cheaper, used text.

Also, don't forget to see if you can take a substitute course for that expensive book class at your local community college. While the text may be the same, the cost per credit hour is about one third. Before you try this, be sure that the program that you are in will accept the transfer course credits as a specific substitute for the on-campus, expensive book, class.
When I lived in Maryland, I was surprised to discover that Chemistry, Calculus and some other math courses would not transfer as substitutes for their equivalent courses in the University of Maryland system. Additionally, keep in mind that some grad programs and most Med schools want to see that you have taken your core courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Organic, at the big four year school. Most explicitly say that they do not accept the credits in these core courses earned at th junior college/community college level (a stupid requirement, since many such courses at the CCs are superbly taught).

Anonymous said...

I just talked to a JMU student this morning that spent over $600 on books.

MBusse said...

I saw this after your post, Lynn. Looks like it was on the front page of WaPo today...


Anonymous said...

Part of the reason you can't get them used cheap is that they come out with a new edition every 2 years and use the same exact material, and would only modify numbers or problems. It is a racket, if politicians want to get serious about making college affordable, books are the place to start. There that expensive because you have no choice.

Anonymous said...

Mr Ballance Fancy Pants should stop saying that I know nothing and that I'm spreading a rumor.

When was the last time he was a student? I was one up till a few years ago. My husband? Still a student.