The State of Washington is looking out for students and their families by passing a law requiring textbook companies to disclose prices and other relevant information when they market books to college professors in the state. Lawmakers hope that professors who learn the costs upfront will opt for reasonably priced textbooks that cash-strapped students can afford.
This law, along with similar measures pending in several other states, is a response to intense lobbying by student groups, who have complained for years about the bankrupting cost of college textbooks. A 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office found that book costs had nearly tripled over some two decades, thanks in part to pricey but marginally useful CD-ROMs and instructional supplements, as well as the constant issuing of lucrative but little changed new editions — publishing’s version of planned obsolescence.
The law is an important first step. But to really drive down costs, colleges and universities around the country will need to embrace creative solutions, like the one on display at the online Connexions system at Rice University.
That content, already in use for several courses at Rice and at other colleges and universities, is generated by a consortium of writers. Online use is free. And a 300-page hardcover electrical-engineering textbook can be printed out for about $25 — roughly one-fifth the cost of a book from a conventional publisher. Other universities should follow Rice’s creative lead. Students can use all the help they can get.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Open Access Textbooks
An editorial in The New York Times (1 May, 2007) critical of the high cost of college textbooks praises the system at Rice University where online access to at least some textbook material is free: