Students must collectively work to beat the textbook system

The rising costs of textbooks should be of no surprise to any college student. Many of us have experienced the pain of shelling out $200 for a single book, which, to our disappointment, we discovered to only have been referenced once throughout the entire semester. Particularly, STEM majors find that their textbook prices often lead the pack, requiring them to use their scientific finesse to find innovative ways to access book information. If there is anything that the exorbitant market of textbooks tells us, it’s that higher education in the U.S. is rumored to be a necessity but is priced as if it were a luxury. The textbooks, combined with the rising cost of tuition, do nothing more than show students that there may be something better that they could be spending their money on.

Additionally, in what ways have professors on campus been complicit in the preventative costs of textbooks? Perhaps it is in the way that in the creation of the syllabus many professors take little note, if any, of the cost of the textbooks that they mark as required reading. It could be in the way in which many professors, particularly those in STEM fields, are hesitant to go out of their way in order to find alternative methods of accessing the same information found in the recommended text, such as open-source textbooks or other online resources. I have had numerous professors who have made public announcements regarding how the new edition of the text is essentially the same as the previous one, save a few chapter rearrangements, but that they would still base the reading assignments and lectures off the newest edition, forcing the class to buy the latest edition in order to avoid continually hunting for the pages and passages that the professor references in lecture.

Of greater consequence is the role that professors who have written textbooks play in the overall machinery of textbook-based education. The answer is that professors who fall in this category have a duty to try to keep class costs down as much as anyone else does. This means showing some morsel of altruism and choosing another text over theirs if it boils down to students learning the same information and saving money. Professors need to realize that their textbook is not always the greatest tool for the class that they are teaching. (Furthermore, and to be quite honest, if the only people buying your textbook are the students who you assign it to, then a bigger conversation should be had as to whether it is a decent textbook at all.)

At the end of the day, textbooks are learning resources but do not amount to learning itself. The University cannot expect us to make prudent academic decisions if, as a 2014 study showed, nearly half of us (48%) are basing decisions of what classes and how many classes we take off textbook affordability. If textbook companies, administrators and instructors will not take up their respective parts in putting students over profit, then my call to action for students is to collectively find innovative ways to beat the system. Find those open-source textbooks that are just as good as, if not better than, the required text. Pass around the link to the Kahn Academy video you just came across. Most importantly, be a friend: share a PDF.

A.J. James is a senior majoring in microbiology and Spanish. His column runs biweekly on Thursdays.

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