7 out of 10 students say they have skipped buying a textbook due to its cost, says the Chronicle of Higher Education. A survey released on Tuesday by a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said that a majority of students said they had not purchased a college textbook because these were too costly.
1,905 undergraduates on 13 campuses, including both large public universities and community colleges, participated. The survey did not take into account how not having a textbook, or sharing one with another student, might affect a student’s academic performance. But 78 percent of the students responding did say they expected to perform worse in a class if they hadn’t bought the textbook.
I’ve heard faculty inveighing against students who have money enough for a cell phone but don’t purchase a textbook. But many textbooks — in science and business classes, for instance — can cost a few hundred dollars. Publishers frequently offer new editions and also “extra materials” online or on a special CD; students are told that if they have to buy a particular edition (the newest) and therefore are unable to purchase a used book.
Publishing practices drove up costs for an even larger group of students. Eighty-one percent of all students also reported being negatively affected because a publisher had released a new edition of a certain textbook, eliminating the resale value of their used text, or preventing them from buying a used textbook.
“Bundling,” the practice of packaging a textbook with CD’s and passcodes that get lost or expire, also limiting resales, affected 59 percent of respondents. Forty-eight percent of students reported that they had been hurt by required editions published exclusively for their college, which cut them off from the used-textbook market as well.
A separate analysis from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has found that textbook costs comprise about 26 percent of tuition at state universities and 72 percent of tuition at community colleges.
In my own classes — at a small, private (Jesuit) urban college with many lower-income students — I’ve noted that about half the students in any class seem to have the textbook. It is of course required to have it; students often try to share or borrow a book. I teach Latin, ancient Greek and Classics and have been trying to keep down book costs by not insisting on any particular edition of a basic Latin or Greek textbook. The different editions tend to have small differences that aren’t noticeable to the students; older editions can often be purchased for far lower prices online. Also, I am teaching “dead languages,” so the information about Latin and ancient Greek grammar changes little from book to book.
I also try to rely more and more on the internet. There are quite a few websites with lots of information about Latin and ancient Greek grammar and I routinely refer students to these. I post lots of information (homework assignments and translation exercises, syllabus) online. The internet is chock-full of websites with images and information about archaeology, mythology, ancient history, gladiators and much, much more and I draw on these rather than looking for a glossy textbook with images and maps.
Not every professor can do this for every course. But with the rising costs of tuition and other expenses for college, students are going to need to cut corners. Does every textbook really need to have so many colored graphs and glossy photos?
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