Thursday, August 21, 2008

College Costs

Everyone has heard how tuition over the last couple decades has risen significantly faster than inflation. The same is true of textbook prices.

The rising cost of college textbooks has driven Congress and nearly three dozen states -- including Maryland and Virginia -- to attempt to curtail prices and controversial publishing practices through legislation. But as the fall semester begins, students are unlikely to see much relief...

Pavel Zemliansky, associate professor of writing and rhetoric at James Madison University, put a textbook he wrote online after a fallout with potential publishers. He said most of the curriculum in his introductory classes, such as grammar and citation, is available free on the Internet.

"It's not clear to me anymore whether university bookstores and educational publishers exist to support education or whether students exist to support those businesses," he said. "It just seems there is a lot of very aggressive marketing going on."

Is this a problem that a Kindle could solve? There wouldn't be a need for actual printers anymore--just publish the book digitally and see downloads. It's worked for iTunes and music!

And once you've paid for tuition, housing, and textbooks, what about everything else?

You thought you were finished with the college bills when you figured out how to pay the tuition. But you hadn't reckoned on buying the microwave, the mini-refrigerator and, of course, those extra-long sheets.

Once your kids head off to school, you may face other financial emergencies. What if they get sick, lose the laptop or overdraw their checking account? Here's how to handle those situations with a minimum of pain to your pocketbook, and your child's.

A parent's work is never done, and his wallet is never closed.


Anonymous said...

"Is this a problem that a Kindle could solve?"

No, of course not.

One can go to a site like to get an idea of the cost of actually producing the physical textbook (can't get more expensive per book than a print run of 1). The problem isn't the cost of physically producing the books. The problem is the extortionate markup combined with the unnecessary obsoleting of versions every few years which makes the used market not work very well (what, Newtonian physics changed again??? Ah ... that's why we need a new freshman physics textbook. I bet it changed at the same time that Calculus did, because we have new textbooks for that subject, too!).

The college textbook market is a scam, pure and simple. The books could be much cheaper if anyone who *could* do anything wanted to do so. For a number of the textbooks one could probably even use copyright expired texts.

Grrrr .....

-Mark Roulo

nebraska girl said...

A quarter of what I'm paying this semester is for fees. We have fees for everything. You even get charged fees for things like facilities and activities even if you only take internet courses. A report the other day said that tuition was up 62% over the last ten years here. I hope I graduate soon.

Scott McCall said... is no longer a education facility. it is a market for money.

pay attention to book buy-back times. for example, at Sacramento state, i bought a book for nearly $250 (brand new, still in the wrapper), which we only covered 1/3 of. I didnt need this book anymore, so i sold back to the university at the end of the semester. They offered me only $80 for it (i didn't write in it or anything). Then, i looked at the prices for the same book in used condition the next semester, they were selling it for $160...double what they bought it off me for.

So, tell me that doesn't show marketing in action?

At least here at the University of Arizona, the book prices are guaranteed lowest, and guaranteed highest book buy-back rates.

Ronnie said...

I was just reading on slashdot how more and more professors are embracing free digital textbooks. I remember last time textbooks were brought up I noted that this is what I've seen occurring at Davis at least.

allen (in Michigan) said...

wikibooks, the California Open Textbook Project, open textbooks...

There are a number of initiatives which build on the idea of open source software to produce textbooks under analogous licensing schemes. So far I don't believe the idea has caught fire but I also believe the pieces are falling into place to start that fire.

Darren said...

The market *will* respond to excessively high prices. It always does.

Keep the government out of it. I like this idea of open source textbooks. (I say this as someone who runs Thunderbird, Firefox, and OpenOffice.)

Anonymous said...

"I like this idea of open source textbooks."

I do, too, but what is the incentive for the *professors* to select these books? As opposed to their own textbook, say? Or a book written by one of their colleagues? It is often difficult to select a specific course (e.g. Physics 2) based on the textbook selected by the teaching professor (plus, this is probably the wrong thing to select a course on). So the textbook can be whatever he/she/it wants and can be priced accordingly. Maybe we should be thankful that the textbooks aren't $1K each, rather than complaining that they are $250 :-)

-Mark Roulo

allen (in Michigan) said...

> The market *will* respond to excessively high prices. It always does.

Except in the case of a government-supported monopoly. Ignoring the market is practically the reason for the existence of a government-supported monopoly.

Melissa B. said...

Good tip for college kids and the parents of those. Send the students to the bookstore to get the ISBN numbers of the texts they'll need for their semester. Then, order them used or at a tremendous discount new from Amazon and other sites that specialize in this!

chi chi said...

(I say this as someone who runs Thunderbird, Firefox, and OpenOffice.)

Opera is better. :)

Eric W. said...

Uh, that last comment was me. I made an account with a nonsense name to sign up for a spamming service to see how many emails I would get, and I guess I was still signed in.

Darren said...

Blackmail time.

Cough up some serious cash, or I tell everyone at school your online name is Chi Chi :-)

Eric W. said...

Please, my full name is "Chi Chi Wagga Wagga" and my email is

Darren said...

Oh. Well, when you put it that way, I guess it's not as embarrassing.