How the rising cost of textbooks threatens education

Paul Bacchi, Opinions Editor

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If you’re like me, you’re well acquainted with the unnecessarily high cost of textbooks in the college bookstore. Unfortunately, it’s not just an issue at Union – across the country, average textbook costs have risen about four times higher than the rate of inflation. It is an issue which really should be addressed, because it negatively impacts education and only further adds to student loan debt.

Textbook publishers, realistically speaking, are the highway bandits of the 21 century. They managed to successfully weasel themselves into the highly lucrative business of educating the youth in a country where an aggressive consumer culture has turned college education into the hottest hotcakes ever sold. In fact, the textbook market really is a convoluted machination that produces downright predatory sales tactics. Textbook salespeople (the industry calls them “representatives”) give sales pitches to teaching faculty as to why their textbook is the best textbook to have.

This is a problem on many levels, not the least of which is the cost. I am sure that many professors and faculty members take into consideration textbook costs when choosing material for their class, but it’s not hard to see how the reality of buying half a dozen textbooks three times a year can be lost on some faculty.

Online codes are even more predatory. They immediately demolish the resale value of the textbook and make it absolutely worthless, which prevents you from returning what would otherwise be an absolutely pristine book worth its complete value. But therein lies the problem: These textbooks aren’t worth what we’re paying for them.

The solution? Subsidizing the costs is pretty much out of the equation – the federal government tried subsidizing tuition and all that has done is produce a student loan debt bubble that’s going to decimate our economy sometime in the next couple of decades.

Regulation is a far better option. There’s no more value in a textbook that costs $400 vs $20. Regulation of the textbook industry would have many economic benefits with no downsides. This isn’t like regulating healthcare – the publishers aren’t undertaking huge research and development costs to find out what the best color to make the hydrogen atom is, or what the best size font to make their image captions is. This is a couple of pedagogical professionals compiling educational information that gets printed onto normal paper with normal ink.

We shouldn’t give the colleges a pass in working toward the solution, though. Colleges across the country should not stand for the ludicrous costs that textbook publishers expect the students to undertake.

If colleges are indeed society’s space where education can be fostered, colleges should do their duty in seeking to avoid any damage to education – and high textbook costs certainly threaten education. To avoid the additional stress of finding a way to pay for textbooks, some students skip buying books for class which can hurt education.

In short – this is a pretty big problem that I think needs to be addressed. Hopefully, the Union administration will take action to help prevent overpriced textbooks from arriving in our bookstore, and hopefully other colleges around the country will do the same.