Archive | September, 2017

A Textbook Dilemma

18 Sep

It’s a familiar topic at the beginning of a semester: textbook prices are increasing exponentially. The College Board estimates that an average U.S. college student spends $1,200 a year on textbooks — a figure representing an 82 percent increase in cost since 2002. That’s triple the rate of inflation in the United States. USF estimates students will spend $1,600 on textbooks per year, a significant expense for students and their families. By not giving students serious alternatives to expensive books, USF makes college less accessible for lower-income students and families.

Like most universities, USF subcontracts the sale of books to a third party, Follett Higher Education Group. Follett sets the prices for books sold on campus and provides a buyback service for students at the end of the semester. However, students expecting to get a fair value when reselling textbooks are routinely disappointed. Follett buys books back at up to 50 percent of their value before turning them around and reselling them as used books higher prices indefinitely.

Textbook prices have soared continually due to the specific nature of the textbook market: few publishers control the majority of the market, and students do not have a say in which texts they are assigned. Five massive educational publishers dominate the market, accounting for 80 percent of all sales. This prevents competition which could potentially drive down prices from entering the market. Further, professors assign book lists without personal financial consequence. Students must buy the books in order to pass the class. This degree of separation benefits textbook publishers, who therefore sell to a captive market with few options.

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College textbooks are going the way of Netflix

13 Sep

A new copy of Glenn Hubbard and Tony O’Brien’s widely used introductory economics textbook costs more than some smartphones. The phone can send you to any part of the web and holds access to the sum of human knowledge. The book is about 800 heavy pages of static text.
Yet thousands of college students around the US are shelling out $250 for these books, each semester, wincing at the many hours ahead of trying to make sense of this attempt to distill the global economy into tiny widgets and graphs. It’s a lot of money for what often feels like mind-numbing, low-grade torture. And it’s tradition. Many of their parents did it before them. It is a rite of passage.

Perhaps no more.

Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, and O’Brien, his co-author, have spent the last three years transforming their classic textbook into a product that can only be described as “education software.” Hubbard and O’Brien worked with an editor for a year and a half to determine what material would be text, and what was better suited for video or interactives. They then spent the same amount of time testing the book on students and professors. The new, virtual version makes its debut this fall. (And it’s one of the resources Texas A&M professor Jon Meer plans to use for his core undergraduate microeconomics course that is going online-only this year for the first time.)

This is the beginning of the end for college’s least enjoyable semi-annual tradition: when kids at the start of each semester have to trek to the school bookstore and walk out textbook-laden, wallet-light. On average, US college students end up spending about $1,200 on books a year.

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