What Textbook Companies Are Forgetting: Students

NPR recently reported on the rising costs of textbooks for university students, and the somewhat surprising lack of inclination to purchase e-textbooks. The article calls current students “digital natives”, since they have been actively engaging the digital era essentially since they were born. NPR wonders why these students aren’t abandoning the skyrocketing prices of college textbooks for the e-textbook. This great quote briefly explains the dilemma between textbook companies and student consumers:

This produced what one textbook salesman called a ‘spiral of destruction.’ Students found new ways to avoid the higher prices. Textbook rentals. Illegal downloads. Some skipped buying the textbook. Which meant the textbook companies were selling even fewer books. So they raised the price for new books again. – NPR’s David Kestenbaum

This stand-off sounds relatively mild from an outside perspective, there are bigger issues than expensive books aren’t there? But this is really important stuff, and the reasons are not mentioned by any of these reports. The answers lie within student interests. The quote above mentions that students have found alternative ways to circumnavigate the high prices of textbooks by renting, illegal downloads or even not purchasing the book. This is really important to note: students will forego expensive books by not getting one altogether. This means that the student will either have to find a buddy to share the book with, get enough snippets from Google Books to be able to con their way through the course without reading, or just not read at all. This means that it is not uncommon for students to disengage with what they are studying because of an added cost. This is not to say that all students will do this for every course, but I would be willing to bet that even the best students have neglected purchasing all of the necessary texts at least once in their college career. But why? Why are millions of students struggling to come up with a few hundred dollars every semester when they are paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend school?

While school costs are paid off longterm, usually in the form of loans, textbook costs are upfront. They are rarely included in tuition, and are left to the student to purchase. Lucky students have parents that can afford to cover these costs, others have to resort to their pockets or taking out more loans than they already have. Student loans are a whole other dilemma that will take a nation to figure out, but to help break down the Student Debt Crisis, Huffington Post has a few stats for you to take a look at. With all these costs adding up, how can textbook companies and students both get what they want, affordable books?

NPR suggests a cool new project that UCLA has recently come up with: the Affordable Course Material Initiative.  This initiative provides grants to instructors to help them come up with affordable, alternative textbooks that coincide with their courses, but are easier on the student’s pockets. A great idea, but I would argue that this project is missing an easier target: find out what the students will pay or do for their books. This applies to textbook companies, college instructors and students alike. Together we can solve this problem, but we need to recognize that students have the final say in what they will buy.

Are you a struggling student? A college instructor? What are your thoughts on how textbook costs can be lowered for students? Is it the instructor’s responsibility, or the textbook manufacturers? Comment your thoughts!

This was Day 10 Prompt: to write an article similar in style to the one I reviewed in my last #500WordsEveryDay post.

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