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Old 09-07-2013, 07:00 PM   #1
doctorow
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The college textbook ripoff charted by Bloomberg

This is not about the rising cost of college tuition. This is about the rising cost of college textbooks. And it's real bad!

Bloomberg has it as its Chart of the Day:

Quote:
The cost of college textbooks has more than doubled since the end of 2001 even as prices for other books retreated, illustrating soaring tuition isn’t the only thing to blame for rising higher education bills as the school year begins.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows university textbook prices surged 102 percent through July from December 2001 while the costs for recreational books declined 1.5 percent. Over the same period, the consumer price index measuring the cost of all goods and services rose 32 percent.
Did textbooks just get so much better, or is it a problem that professors, who are in charge of determining what their students have to buy, usually don't have any control over the cost of the textbooks?

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Old 09-07-2013, 07:33 PM   #2
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Post-secondary education has primarily turned into a money machine. Gone are the days when it was run by academics. It is now viewed as a necessity for white collar work, and so the "gate keepers" have set up shop at the pinch points, as usual.
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:35 PM   #3
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Interesting that the chart also documents a real-dollar decrease in the price of recreational books. That also needs to be explained.

AFAIK college students today mostly buy used books. I wonder if used prices are going up just as fast. Maybe faster!

As for the professors, I think they are in a hard place. The publishers seem to be releasing new textbook editions very quickly. If the prof continues to assign the old edition, every student would be forced to buy used, and a few wouldn't like that. More important, there's a danger that booksellers, especially locally, would run out of the old edition. So, regardless of whether it is the best choice, there's a lot of reasons for the prof to go with the new expensive edition.

So long as the school owns enough reference copies to meet demand for in-library reading, I don't have a tremendous problem with assigning expensive books.
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:49 PM   #4
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It gets even more shocking if you chart textbook prices over the past 30 years and compare it to housing prices and healthcare:



From:
http://www.the-digital-reader.com/20...tal-textbooks/
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:50 PM   #5
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In some cases the choice of textbook is not in the hands of the professor, rather it is decided on a departmental or higher level. Many instructors want to use a text of their own choice. This leads to situations where there is an official textbook for a course that is never used. The instructor then recommends the book which will be used, or provides notes to students. I am curious how many courses actually require students to purchase the 'required' text.
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:57 PM   #6
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I think there are a bunch of factors at work here.

One factor is that young adults are under a tremendous amount of pressure to continue their education, even if the field that they're entering did not require higher education in the past. (In some cases those jobs do not require higher education in the present and going to college/university will set them back, but they are never told that.) This pressure leaves people willing to pay as much as they can afford to get that degree. Both universities and publishers are taking advantage of that.

Another factor is that textbooks are no longer just textbooks. Many universities seem to be hiring lower skilled and temporary instructors while increasing class size. This has created an opportunity for publishers, since they frequently provide everything from instructors manuals to online assessment tools with their textbooks. As far as I can tell, instructors manuals used to be answers to selected questions and assessment tools used to be a small question bank. Now they have everything from slides, to extensive question banks, to courseware with assignments and quizzes. Of course that courseware provides sophisticated ways to examine student performance. They'll also interface with devices like clickers that allow students to interact with the instructor in large lecture halls. Of course providing all of these tools costs money, which is passed on to the student.

I also have to question the time period examined. I seem to recall textbook prices being stable, and in some cases even declining, when I was in university (1996-2000). A prolonged period of stable prices can be marked by a period of high inflation afterwards since the increasing cost of materials and labour ultimately has to be accounted for.
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:04 PM   #7
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I teach computer programming at a vocational school. I have to follow the State's frameworks as to what my students are supposed to learn, but it's up to me which books I use. To cover everything I'm suppose to, my students have to buy five books. The most expensive ones come from Cengage, which is a scholastic publisher. Most of their stuff is top-notch. Each chapter in the book has questions and exercises for the students and the teacher's book comes with PowerPoints, test banks, etc. One book costs my students $145.
I also use Murach's books, which can be purchased from Amazon for around $35. But there's no questions or exercises for each chapter. I have to come up with my own stuff.

Used computer books is pointless. Most programming technologies get updated every year or two and the students like to keep the books for reference anyway.
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:17 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kevinp View Post
Used computer books is pointless. Most programming technologies get updated every year or two and the students like to keep the books for reference anyway.
This doesn't make sense to me. Why keep a book as reference if it goes out of date next year? I'm thinking it's because they don't actually go out of date so fast. Languages are pretty stable, and Computer Science concepts are even more so. Tool chains evolve rapidly, but you shouldn't need a textbook for those if the concepts are well-taught. Milking the students for as much as you can get seems to be the only reason for the price hikes.

I've read in previous threads here that sometimes proof of purchase of the textbook is required before homework is accepted. If that's not milking them for money, I don't know what is.
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:33 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveEisenberg View Post
Interesting that the chart also documents a real-dollar decrease in the price of recreational books. That also needs to be explained.

AFAIK college students today mostly buy used books. I wonder if used prices are going up just as fast. Maybe faster!

As for the professors, I think they are in a hard place. The publishers seem to be releasing new textbook editions very quickly. If the prof continues to assign the old edition, every student would be forced to buy used, and a few wouldn't like that. More important, there's a danger that booksellers, especially locally, would run out of the old edition. So, regardless of whether it is the best choice, there's a lot of reasons for the prof to go with the new expensive edition.

So long as the school owns enough reference copies to meet demand for in-library reading, I don't have a tremendous problem with assigning expensive books.
Other than the fact that the school probably does not have enough reference copies, I think demanding an expensive text is kind of a standard practice with some schools, professors with no actual reason other that if it costs the most it is must be the best or they or a friend wrote it. My biggest objection is to textbooks that change little, but must be used for several years, and students are either forced or encouraged to buy the new edition each year , when a small addendum would do.

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Old 09-07-2013, 09:39 PM   #10
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I also use Murach's books, which can be purchased from Amazon for around $35. But there's no questions or exercises for each chapter. I have to come up with my own stuff.
You should demand to get paid if you have to do that. Or perhaps the students could take up a collection. 20 students times several classes times 2 or 3 terms a year who could save $110 a book for say 3 books each might be motivated to cough up a few thousand between them. Just thinking back to my vocational school days in electronics and programming.

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Old 09-07-2013, 11:52 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by speakingtohe View Post
My biggest objection is to textbooks that change little, but must be used for several years, and students are either forced or encouraged to buy the new edition each year , when a small addendum would do.
But who's going to write the addendum? The publishing company certainly won't. They can't make much money doing that. They would rather sell a completely new version of the book.
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Old 09-08-2013, 12:08 AM   #12
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But who's going to write the addendum? The publishing company certainly won't. They can't make much money doing that. They would rather sell a completely new version of the book.
They don't have to write the addendum AFAIK, Just print the changed pages or additions with references to the original page numbers. many would buy the new edition to avoid cross referencing, but those who couldn't afford to would have an alternative.

Still publishing new editions with little or no added content seems to be an accepted textbook practice. Sometimes just the first few pages are changed.

And that is the point they would rather sell a completely new version of the book, but when is it a completely new version? For that to happen it would have to be a new book, not a new edition.

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Old 09-08-2013, 08:36 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post
It gets even more shocking if you chart textbook prices over the past 30 years and compare it to housing prices and healthcare:
[/url]
Something has to give eventually.

The quality and quantity of collaboratively written textbooks available at no cost is increasing. Let's hope that they are in good enough shape to take over before the current system of textbook production and distribution collapses under it's own weight.
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Old 09-08-2013, 08:57 PM   #14
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I went to state college, and the profs were cognizant of the general economic status of the students and chose books accordingly. Eg, they would use the same book year to year so you could buy it used. In private unversities I think there's more of the attitude that if you can afford the tuition you can afford the textbooks.
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Old 09-08-2013, 11:02 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by SteveEisenberg View Post
AFAIK college students today mostly buy used books.
How do you know that? We are in our third year and I can tell you that they work very hard to discourage any purchases outside the sanctioned book store. For starters, the book lists are not published until days before classes begin. Specific revisions are required and books are updated frequently. Software licenses are required. The license alone costs almost much as license plus text. The schools have custom versions of texts printed that sell at a premium. No shame among the capitalists that run our schools.
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