Everyone knows what I am going to talk about. Do we really need to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks we’d really not use after the semester is done with? This isn’t just an American issue. Textbooks, even in India, are pretty expensive, especially at the higher education level.
I think the most I have spent for textbooks at NC State on books over a single semester is about $400. I had to cave in and get the book(s) simply because they were so well “endorsed” by the professor that any attempt to get by without buying them started to prove futile. So, who do we blame? Teachers for recommending those expensive textbooks, publishers for pricing them exorbitantly, or the students for not creating a market big enough to get economies of scale into action?
It’s a peculiar situation, and no matter how many bills are passed by the various Governments, the truth is that unless there’s an economic incentive for independent/big name publishers, there are going to be no textbooks. At the primary education level, I really like what India has done. Most, if not all, of my high school textbooks were written by exemplary writers in their fields, and subsidized heavily by the central (federal) Government to make them affordable. This type of thing is certainly very very ambitious at the higher education level simply because of the size and scope of the mission.
But, it’s a difficult situation. On the one hand there’s acute shortage of college enrollments in engineering/computer science in the US, while on the other hand it’s too expensive for the average American to afford books without economic aid. So, what’s the solution to this “mess”?
Many Universities are already working on a rental system, where they facilitate semester-long book rentals for almost all students. Then there’s the libraries.
Something else needs to be done, though, and in my opinion that something is reducing the dependance on textbooks, at least for technical courses. There’s so much change of technology happening, and most research is being done with Government money as it is. The professors need to make their teaching material available to the class in a manner that no supplemental material is necessary. Then, there are the various open courseware projects like MIT OpenCourseWare. More of these need to be developed, and used.
Everyone has a right to getting an education, and we should try our best to spread knowledge without an inherent price.