The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 26, 2014

Our View: Are textbooks old educational technology

Why it matters: Struggling students and their families continue to shell out thousands for educational tools that seem to be losing their value

A recent in-depth Free Press report on the college textbook industry sheds light on the burden students and parents pay for textbooks that may not be used much in class and may be part of an obsolete educational technology.

Some Minnesota State University students interviewed for the article said they never buy a textbook until the course has begun in earnest because they want to determine if having the textbook -- and presumably reading it -- will impact their grade.

Others don’t buy textbooks at all because of the cost and the ability to illegally download them off the Internet.

Textbook costs have long been seen as one of the most unfair costs of going to college. Books are hundreds of dollars and are sometimes barely used. Then, if a professor decided not to use the book again or required a new version, there is no resale value.

Now, the market is responding to those high prices and unfair policies. Students are scrutinizing their needs more closely and finding black market downloads if they do need textbooks. Who can blame them?

As higher education moves like other industries to adopt new information technologies, we wonder why an old technology like a textbook is still around. Is it that the beneficiaries of the textbook industry (textbook companies and textbook authors) have sort of kept the market artificially alive by living by the mantra of the textbook?

With textbooks prices rising at an inflationary rate of about 6 percent per year, it’s not surprising students have been hesitant to buy them for a course where they may not use them.

College professors and administrators have a role to play here. We hear so often about the need to keep tuition rates down or push state funding higher, but we rarely hear about the need to adopt new educational technology that is not only effective at teaching but can be produced efficiently and priced reasonably.

It’s a lesson all of higher education would do well to heed.

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