Doc Seidman Says…..
….One hundred and sixty-six dollars and eighty-four cents can buy you a lot of things. It can get you 36 Frappuccinos® at Starbucks. Do you like Chick-fil-A? Twenty-Five Chick-fil-A Chicken Deluxe Sandwiches are yours for that price. You can head over to 7-11 46 times for a mega Slurpee. Guys, you can take your girl to a movie 18 times, or, surprise- get 19 buckets of large popcorn. For those of you not “borrowing” someone’s password, $166.84 can buy you 15 months of Netflix. (No charge for the chill, so I’m told.) More strikingly, $166.84 buys you one class worth of textbooks, on average, at your college bookstore. Now there’s a real surprise!
In 2015, Priceonomics, an online data analytics company, studied textbook pricing from the University of Virginia. They reviewed prices from the 31 most common majors and came up with an average textbook price, per class, of $166.84. Of the 31 majors, textbooks for those studying Economics carried the biggest price tag at $317 while African American Studies had the lowest textbook burden for students at $80 a class. Various college prep websites calculate an annual textbook expense at $1,200 a year. If a typical student takes 30 credits a year, the textbook cost per credit is $40. For a typical three credit class, that comes out to $120. If we factor in that some classes might not require a textbook, the $120 per class is most likely more like $150-$160.
The first question often asked is why textbooks are so expensive? A 2015 report in Business Insider claimed that because there are only a handful of textbook publishers, and many professors require specific editions, supply is limited and demand is high. Publishers truly have a lock on the market. Additionally, many courses now bundle the textbook purchase with other online resources that are available only with the purchase of an access code. Access expires at the end of the semester forcing the next group of students to repeat the purchase cycle. The rise of textbook “bundling” eliminates the used and rental books market which offer textbooks at a much lower price.
Apparently, students aren’t taking this lying down, or even sitting down. Studies show that 65% of students won’t purchase textbooks at some time throughout their college career. And who can blame them? One hundred and sixty-six dollars and eighty-four cents can buy things much more appealing than textbooks.
Sadly, this forces students into a difficult decision. Purchase the required books and resources or get by without them? Students must reconcile not buying the required textbook with the degree in which it may impact their grade. College students are faced with enough difficult decisions, however, this one seems particularly unfair. With anxiety and stress on the rise within the college student population, the textbook dilemma doesn’t make college life any easier.
There are certainly alternatives. When it is possible to do so, students can save a great deal of money by buying second-hand textbooks or even renting them. Third party sites found on line also offer less expensive options. But again, many professors now try and get around this by bundling important class resources with the purchase of the textbook, thereby wiping away this savings. If you think about it, this is downright mean.
Another dissatisfier lies with professors who write and require a textbook they themselves have written. This can certainly be a double-edged sword as on one hand, they can direct the course precisely from the words they have written in the textbook. On the other hand, many students feel they are being punished by these same professors if they don’t buy the book. That too is a major dissatisfier.
When I visit various college bookstores, there does seem to be one category of textbooks in demand, at any price. Those would be the books required for any class about sexual health, trends, and education. Sex is certainly a popular activity in college and sitting in an academic classroom learning about the subject is becoming almost as popular. Aside from the various elective classes, many colleges now offer majors in Sexual Studies. This includes large universities such as Ohio State, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Yale, and Dartmouth (College), to name a few. I don’t know for sure but I would venture to say that the $135.28 students plunk down for a copy of Introducing the New Sexual Studies, 2nd edition, is a bargain. College bookstores probably struggle to keep Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader in stock, even at a price of $96.19. And if a student loan package pays for these textbooks, all the better. It’s Christmas in September.
As a professor, I didn’t teach Sexual Studies, I taught Marketing and Management. Those textbooks didn’t quite have the same appeal. Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, 7th edition, by Phillip Kotler with a retail price of $171 didn’t quite have the same appeal as Sex Maters for College Students, or Essentials of Human Sexuality, at any price. Therefore, getting my students to purchase the Kotler book was uphill at best. I wanted my students to have the textbook but encouraged them to save money. I allowed them to rent books and even share books. I even allowed older editions and worked hard to not punish those students who did not have the most recent copy. To me, any textbook was better than no textbook.
Today’s college leaders and provosts are becoming more aware this is a problem. Some colleges now bundle e-textbooks into the tuition. Others now encourage faculty to provide less expensive options such as printed and bound class notes. There is also a growing movement to provide copyright-free, open-access textbooks. Unfortunately, only a small percent of schools have adopted this policy.
Until things change, students will continue to anguish over the battle between buying textbooks and having extra spending money. They must decide between fifteen months of Netflix and a few mega Slurpees, or one Kotler textbook. Hmmm…….