Textbook system needs revision

Brad Unangst

Tuition is rising, housing costs are rising and gas prices are rising; the only cost that has been steady is the price of textbooks. They’re incredibly expensive with few chances of changing. This might not seem like a problem for the University, but there are ways our school can significantly reduce the burden on students who must repeatedly buy expensive new textbooks during their educations.

Currently, students must purchase either new or used textbooks for up to six classes, each requiring multiple books. According to the National Association of College Stores, the average price for four textbooks is $272.60. Although some courses require inexpensive texts, students with certain majors – especially in the math and science departments – are forced to buy many high-priced books at the beginning of each semester. It seems that the average cost of books for a semester can be as much as an entire month’s rent. Yet selling books back to help pay for rent is not even worth the time it takes to walk to Williamson Hall; keeping the books is a better investment due to the absurdly low prices the University buys them back at.

Students need textbooks, and short from switching to electronic texts, good old-fashioned books cannot be wished away. But the University can help students ease the burden. For example, the University could supply all required texts and students could simply pay a flat fee each semester for renting privileges. If the book was damaged or lost during the semester, the student would be billed for the full cost of the book. As far as keeping texts for reference purposes, students would have the option to buy the books at a reduced cost at the end of the semester.

This, however, is not a fantasy; it is a reality in many schools, including some right across the river in neighboring Wisconsin. Students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse enjoy the financial freedoms of this system and save hundreds more than their Minnesota counterparts. Also, La Crosse’s book rental fee is included in the tuition bill, similar to our student fees. This helps make the cost of books easily applicable to financial aid, scholarships and for government tax purposes.

La Crosse’s system survives without costing the school thousands because the professors make an effort to reuse the same texts whenever possible. Of course, there is a need to upgrade when significant technological, factual or contextual changes are made, but professors should not continuously require new editions just because of a few minor changes. Textbook publishers make these microscopic alterations to make money, not to keep students’ knowledge up-to-the-minute. La Crosse’s system works, and the University should help students save a few dollars by implementing a similar program.