Sep 172007
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

Do you care about the quality of your textbooks, or just their price?

That’s the question student leaders might as well be asking, if a recent Collegian article reported their feelings properly. ASCSU, your student government, is launching a crusade to reduce the price of textbooks, which is a laudable goal.

But ASCSU is choosing the wrong targets in its crusade to lower textbook prices.

It’s easy to attack the “shady” textbook publishers, and not all of that criticism is misguided. But student leaders are likely to have a greater impact on your wallets if they turn their attention closer to home.

Associated Students of Colorado representative Blake Gibson noted in Friday’s Collegian that the textbook market is “broken,” and he’s right. Real markets mean competition, and right now, the CSU bookstore often holds a monopoly on textbook sales, driving prices up.

In order for there to be competition, off-campus bookstores have to know what textbooks to buy in time to order them before the beginning of classes.

And here’s where part of the blame lies close to home – your professors.

Too many departments and faculty members don’t choose textbooks until the very last minute. That’s bad for everyone – the CSU bookstore has to pay for last-minute shipping, doesn’t have time to scout out cheaper used books, and off-campus stores can’t compete at all.

So demand, ASCSU, that professors and departments be more prompt in choosing textbooks, for our sake. It’ll mean competition and lower prices.

ASCSU Director of Academics Dan Palmer went on, in the Collegian, to blast the revolving door of new textbook editions, ignoring the fact that there are legitimate reasons for revisions to textbooks.

“When was the last time calculus changed?” said Palmer.

Calculus may not have changed much, but the way it’s taught sure has. Ask yourself: do you really want textbooks that rely on ineffective teaching techniques that were discredited decades ago? Do you want textbooks that don’t talk about the latest real-world applications?

For that matter, how long you want publishers to put off correcting errors?

Arbitrarily condemning new editions of textbooks amounts to calling for lower textbook quality. Personally, I’d rather have an accurate, useful, and up-to-date textbook, even if it does cost a few bucks more.

ASCSU also complains about the “bundling” of additional educational materials, and students’ complain that they’re “never used.”

Whose fault is it that “bundled” CD-ROMs never get used? If they sit on your desk all semester, blame yourself for not taking advantage of an educational opportunity or your professors for not pointing you to useful learning tools.

If you only think of textbooks as a way to find the assigned homework problems, of course they’re overpriced. But if that’s all you use the textbook for, then, frankly, you’re losing out on a tremendous resource and shortchanging your own education.

Now, all of these are understandable oversights, but the most ridiculous assertion ASCSU makes is the idea that spending $20 million of your tax money to launch a textbook-rental program will somehow lower textbook prices.

Ask yourself where that money would come from.

Instead of spending more of our tax money, ASCSU would do well to go back to the plan Katie and Trevor campaigned on last year: ease the burden on students by lobbying for a sales tax break on textbooks.

A textbook tax break would immediately drop a $450 textbook bill to $420.

Re-introduce competition back into the marketplace by getting textbook lists out early enough, and you can easily shave another $100 or more of your purchase.

It’s even more savings if you sell your textbooks back, because buy-back also depends on having next semester’s textbook lists early.

But let’s not make textbooks more affordable by degrading their quality.

After all, there’s a difference between inexpensive and just plain cheap.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

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